Cary Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Wishaw, Natalie Press

In this last election, only between 14 and 15 percent of voters actually cast a ballot. Sure, these were mostly municipal elections, which for some reason, people think are insignificant. However, it’s easy to see that many could forget how our forbearers waged bloody fights for the privilege. In America, women lobbied for 74 years. In both the U.S. and England, the struggle got more and more violent as women’s rights were denied.

Suffragette shines a light on the history of the U.K. campaigns of the 1910s. It’s a much-needed story told with great art direction and fantastic actors all around. Unfortunately, there are a couple small errors that keep this important subject from being a great film.

Meryl Streep is illuminating in a part that gets short shrift.

Meryl Streep is illuminating in a part that gets short shrift.

Mulligan is a very poor working-class wife and mother slaving away in a laundry. Her work is dangerous, she doesn’t earn what she’s worth, and her boss is a sexist jerk. Accident and happenstance pulls her into the London politics of women’s rights. Her slow spiral into the center of the fight jeopardizes her job, her marriage, her freedom, and even her relationship with her young son.

Heady dramatic stuff. Too bad it’s fictional. It’s a pet peeve I have that – when filmmakers could tell a story about real people – they often shove aside the famous for the ability to shape and mold the story. That means great historic figures like Edith New (Bonham Carter), Emmaline Pankhurst (the always radiant Streep), and especially Emily Wilding Davison (Press) are mere window dressing. If the story is about the commoners and not the events (like in Forrest Gump), then its fine to create a fake character. When it’s about history – as it is here and in the summer bomb Stonewall – have some respect for the people!

It’s not that Mulligan (An Education) isn’t a fantastic actress. Her wonderful work here often makes you forget that she’s a scriptwriter’s creation. Her shaky marriage to Wishaw provides some dramatic tension.

It’s just that, the end of the film leaves us left wanting more – more information, more closure, more important people who were actually flesh and blood.

This is director Sarah Gavron's first major film; it's very encouraging.

This is director Sarah Gavron’s first major film; it’s very encouraging.

Suffragette overcomes most of its flaws with technical finesse. This is director Sarah Gavron’s first major flick. Her sense of editing tension, tone, and pace are quite wonderful. She works with brilliant cinematographer Eduard Grau (A Single Man, Buried, The Awakening). They mix incredibly moving shots with weirdly shaky, modern handheld. Jonathan Houlding (The Martian, The Phantom of the Opera), Barbara Herman-Skelding (Philomena) and Cho Ho Man (Richard III) should get nominated for their art direction. Costumer Jane Petrie might snag her first nomination. Composer Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel) could win his second Oscar.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

The script by Abi Morgan is mostly strong, but it still has those narrative wobbles and missteps that affected her work on The Iron Lady and Shame.

Yet Suffragette solidly reminds us that women are still not treated as equal human beings. The solid technical work and the amazing actors may get our vote even when the fictional story itself doesn’t carry through on its campaign promises.

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