Review: Suffragette

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DIR: Sarah Gavron • WRI: Abi Morgan • PRO: Alison Owen, Faye Ward • DOP: Eduard Grau • ED: Barney Pilling • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Alice Normington • CAST: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson

 

The distinct lack of films depicting the Suffragette movement in cinema since the silent era is unsurprising. Despite a host of documentaries and television movies exploring one of the most pivotal events in women’s history, cinema has predominantly shied away from the subject, possibly under the (mis) conception that suffrage is now irrelevant and contemporary audiences are better placed aligning their sympathies with more pertinent, identifiable social struggles. While most of the silent era films have been lost, those that survive delineate a collective portrait of aggressive, defeminized termagants, whose abandonment of traditional gender roles created havoc within existing social structures, allowing cinema to engage in negative propaganda and persistent stereotypes.

Sarah Gavron’s ambitious interpretation on British women’s suffrage follows its foot soldiers highly-charged campaign for social change in London, circa 2012. Penned by The Iron Lady writer, Abi Morgan, Suffragette, originally entitled The Fury, makes no apologies for its categorical feminist perspective, honouring the forgotten working-class women who fought to secure the right to vote and stand in political elections. Carey Mulligan stars as working-class washerwoman, Maud Watts, who is persuaded to join the movement, despite disapproval from her loving husband and lascivious boss. Under the encouragement of local pharmacist and seasoned activist, Edith (Helena Bonham Carter), downtrodden cockney, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) and the watchful leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) Maud finds herself engaged in a flurry of violent, illegal activity to increase media publicity for the cause. Soon her defiant activism compromises her family and job and with the guileful police inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) determined to derail her efforts, Maud is forced to choose between her old, subordinated life or continue the bloody fight for emancipation.

A compelling and propulsive no-holds-barred interpretation, Suffragette does not shy away from accentuating the extreme subversive tactics employed by the bastions of the women’s movement in the face of frenzied, brutal opposition. Delving into the psyche and spirit of the era through a bold cinematic vision, Gavron pumps a thumping rush of furious energy into the inflammable, character-driven narrative, which steamrolls along at a ferocious pace, creating a palpable, nervous edginess, which perfectly executes the pervading social unrest of the era. Captured through a highly subjective, restless feminist lens, with many of the action sequences shot in media res, the camera belligerently probes and taunts to heighten the claustrophobic milieu of a disordered society on the brink of immense social change.

Determined to redress the balance of stereotype and negative connotations aligned with suffragette identity, Gavron welcomes a heady mix of heterogeneous characters that broadly traverse the social spectrum, ranging from impoverished skivvies to grand privileged dames, with specific emphasis on working-class women. Granting her leading ladies their own weighty biography, which stands in opposition to the commonly assumed portrait of masculine, subversive harridans or well-to-do socialites, Gavron succeeds in making visible and humanizing the unknown combatants who have been long forgotten or erased by history. Carey Mullingan, at the helm of the action, plays the reluctant activist with an understated but deeply intense emotional power, her face, persistently framed in confined close-ups, etched with invisible scars from years of oppression, abuse and interminable struggle.

Although Maud’s dissatisfaction with her lot propels her to action rather than any informed political leanings, aligning her more with the affluent socialites of the time who turned to the cause to out of boredom rather than socio-political motivation, it is her transformation, from a politically ignorant subordinate to an enlightened, mettlesome mutineer that reinforces the film’s core message. Maud’s political education and her awareness to the failings of the law, align the movement’s insurgent tactics to its political ambitions, rooting a more tangible comprehension of its history for contemporary audiences. By merging the political with the personal through an accessible narrative, Gavron reaches the nucleus of its ideology, redressing the manipulation of suffrage identity and situating Maud and her cohorts as more representative of the collective rather than the unfeminine disputants in over-sized hats, so often assumed.

While Maud’s characterisation succeeds in making visible diverse identities across the class divide, Gavron fails to delineate a balanced perspective on the movement in its entirety. Ethnic minorities, such as Indian women were particularly active in British suffrage and in light of the film’s overly feminist perspective, it loses some narrative weight by advocating an exclusively white agenda, which somewhat reinforces the stereotype she is fervently trying to avoid. Also noteworthy is the lack of attention to women that subscribed to an anti-suffrage ideology, largely on the basis of sexual difference but it is the director’s incendiary polemic on her male characters that is most questionable, which she appears to view with feminist revisionism rather than suffragist revisionism, two distinctly disparate political ideologies. The women in the film may be angry but Gavron is furious. While the inhumane treatment and sexual humiliation experienced by the suffragettes is represented with immense emotional power, Gavron explicitly indulges in masculine stereotypes, pejoratively promoting an anti-male perspective, her all too few sympathetic male characters withdrawing support once it impinges on domestic life. Male supporters who championed the movement are also disregarded, particularly those equally subjected to discriminatory laws by failing to meet specific property requirements. To Gavron, suffrage in Britain was an elite white, female club only.

The strength of Suffragette lies in its compelling portrait of British working-class women, which roots the political to the personal through an engaging narrative, impressive production values and superb performances, allowing contemporary audiences to easily identify with a more coherent suffragette ideology, not previously seen in cinema. The promotion of an overly subjective, feminist narrative detracts, at times, from the perspicuous portrait of working-class women and it is a shame that Gavron’s over-magnification of Maud’s narrative does not locate it within a wider social context nor take into account the active participation of other social groups and political supporters.

Despite such narrative oversights, Suffragette’s supreme message is unequivocal, quashing the notion that suffrage is irrelevant (a detailed list of the countries who have attained and still seeking suffrage accompanies the closing titles) and the fight for emancipation is far from over.

   Dee O’Donoghue

12A (see IFCO for details)

106 minutes

Suffragette is released 16th October 2015

Suffragette –  Official Website

 

 

 

 


 

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Before I Go To Sleep

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DIR: Rowan Joffe • WRI: Thomas McCarthy • PRO: Mark Gill, Avi Lerner, Liza Marshall, Matthew O’Toole, Ridley Scott • DOP: Ben Davis   ED:  Melanie Oliver • DES: Kave Quinn MUS: Ed Shearmur • Cast: Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Anne-Marie Duff

Rowan Joffes adaptation of S.J. Watson’s bestseller Before I Go To Sleep uses the same premise as Mememto and Fifty First Dates, one a thriller the other a romantic comedy.  I love how pliable a premise can be.

 

Christine (Kidman) wakes up every day with no idea who she is, her memory robbed because of a car accident ten years earlier; according to her husband Ben (Firth), a ‘stranger’ she has been living with for a long time. Imagine how worn out he has been explaining her predicament every day for all this time, even if he was lying he’d start to believe it himself. Kidman accepts this scenario, until Dr Nash (Strong) enters the picture, a psychologist who has a different story to tell. So somebody is telling porkies. Christine doesn’t know who to trust and has to learn the truth whilst struggling with her memory problem; a bit like Guy Pearce in Memento, only instead of a succession of tattoos to help aid her detective mission she relies on Post-it notes and video recordings.

 

Essentially a three hander, with Kidman worrying who is the villain of the two male leads, Before I Go To Sleep builds some interesting tension and keeps you guessing, but when all the cards are finally played, it breaks under the weight of its own expectations.  lso, its familiarity is distracting. Apart from the films mentioned already, it also riffs off Hitchcock’s Notorious. And why not?  But despite some solid work from those involved on screen, and Joffe as director, the script does not hold onto you because of the very nature of those comparisons – or perhaps I just watch too many films. Strong gets the terrible task of being Mr Exposition once too often and Kidman seems to be going through the A,B,Cs that she used as far back as Dead Calm, don’t get me wrong, she is a fine actor. Firth (for some reason of my own, not one of my favourite actors) does a version of Firth.

 

Joffe holds the reins adequately enough, but his clunky script replete with plot holes and similarities to other films may make it too distracting and derivative for audiences to buy into its ideas, or as I said, maybe I just watch too many movies.

Paul Farren

15A (See IFCO for details)

91 minutes

Before I Go To Sleep is released 5th September

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Galway Film Fleadh 2012 Cinema Review: Sanctuary

DIR: Norah McGettigan  • WRI: Norah McGettigan, Gabriel Vargas • PRO: Andrew Freedman, Katarzyna Slesicka  • Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen • ED: Mariusz Kus • Cast: Jan Frycz, Anne-Marie Duff, Agnieszka Zulewska

The Irish-Polish co-production debut Sanctuary by Norah McGettigan tells a story of grief, heartache, love and self discovery.

Sanctuary is no safe haven; it’s an emotional journey about a very successful Warsaw plastic surgeon that isn’t so successful at balancing his home life. Over the years a hole in his relationship with his wife grows deeper. Although they live in the same house it has long been a home that they shared together. One day Jan (Jan Frycz) returns home from a business trip to find his wife dead in the back garden. His daughter Nadia (Agnieszka Zulewska) returns to the house and for the first time in years she is present in the same room as her father who she resents deeply for letting her mother down. The sentiment between the pair is of loss, awkwardness and hurt and it’s beautifully portrayed. Jan struggles with his grief and is unable to deal with the energy between his daughter and himself so he escapes with the excuse of a conference abroad seeking refuge in his hotel there. There he meets a beautiful woman Marie (Anne-Marie Duff) who reminds him of his late wife and the happier times they shared together.

The acting from Jan Frycz is fantastic! He manages to show an old heavy soul with complex characteristics throughout. His voice has a beautiful strong, deep, velvety tone to it. Agnieszka Żulewska’s first foray into feature film was good, she played the disappointed, grieving daughter well and it’ll be interesting to see how she develops throughout her acting career. Anne-Marie Duff played the adorable love interest in a quirky, fun way which was a great choice as you might have found it hard to relate/like her character giving that Jan’s wife had just passed away. But she manages to get you on side early on in the film and you find yourself rooting for the pair to get together. Norah McGettigan’s film flows nicely and has true to life moments which pull on your heart strings a little. It’s sweet, yet heartbreaking, an odd combination but a wonderful mix.

 

Lynn Larkin

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Nowhere Boy

Nowhere Boy

DIR: Sam Taylor Wood • WRI: Matt Greenhalgh • PRO: Robert Bernstein, Matt Delargy, Kevin Loader, Douglas Rae, Paul Ritchie, James Saynor • DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Lisa Gunning • DES: Alice Normington • CAST: Kristin Scott Thomas, Thomas Sangster, Aaron Johnson, Anne-Marie Duff, Sam Bell

2009 brought about quite a revival for The Beatles. We’ve had a video game in Beatles Rock Band, a complete renewal of their back-catalogue with the remastered albums, and now (in a move more familiar to the horror genre) we get the ‘origins’ movie. Nowhere Boy is based on John Lennon’s sister Julia’s memoirs Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon, which lends credibility to this previously untold story of the adolescent Mr. Lennon. The film follows John (Aaron Johnson) from his mid-teens through a time of self-discovery, ending as The Beatles leave for Hamburg to learn their trade.

The narrative is predominantly concerned with John’s relationship with the two women (ir)responsible for his upbringing. John’s largely absent and wayward but ultimately loving and passionate mother is played with fervour by Anne-Marie Duff. In his mother’s absence, John’s upbringing is left to his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) whose absolute dedication to the English tradition of stiff upper lip leaves John unfulfilled in his youth. Their combined influence on the rebellious youth vie for balance as John’s schoolwork suffers through his growing love for music and the lifestyle which accompanies it. John’s mother introduces him to rock ’n’ roll much to Mimi’s chagrin, but in doing so sparks the creative flair in her son which had lain dormant until then. Mimi’s influence is more evident in the eloquent and matured John Lennon whom this Elvis-obsessed youth would one day become.

The adolescent John Lennon of Nowhere Boy is the embodiment of the myth which this man became following his premature death. That the film is tinted by a romantic’s vision becomes evident upon the introduction of Paul McCartney. Paul is played by Thomas Sangster – who you may recall as the love-struck son of Liam Neeson in Love Actually and has apparently not grown since – who occupies roughly half the space of the muscular, handsome and charismatic Lennon and drinks tea when not playing a guitar twice his size.

Nowhere Boy, despite its obvious allegiance to Lennon and not McCartney, emerges as a fascinating biopic. That it is based on a first-hand account of events that unfolded behind closed doors, and which shaped the man that was to become Lennon, affords the film credibility where another version of the same story would be purely fiction. As with Control, an enthralling biopic of Ian Curtis, the screenplay for Nowhere Boy was penned by Matt Greenhalgh. Both films are chiefly concerned with the mentality of their protagonists; Nowhere Boy is an attempt to get inside the head of John Lennon through the people and events which made him who he was, with family naturally a dominant aspect.

As a story, it is unremarkable when separated from the subsequent fame of Lennon and The Beatles. If this were purely a coming-of-age story about your average Joe Soap there would be little to recommend it. However, because of the man Lennon would later become there is plenty here to interest, entertain and possibly enrage your average Beatles fan. This is only the first chapter of Lennon’s story, but it forms the basis of everything that would follow.

Peter White
(See biog here)

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)
Nowhere Boy
is released 26th Dec 2009

Nowhere Boy
– Official Website

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