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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Cinderella

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DIR: Kenneth Branagh • WRI: Chris Weitz • PRO: David Barron, Simon Kinberg, Allison Shearmur • DOP: Haris Zambarloukos • ED: Martin Walsh • MUS: Patrick Doyle • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Lily James, Hayley Atwell, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett

For viewers who are au fait with recent animation and fairy tale adaptations aimed at young children, Cinderella may come as something of a shock. Here, there are no winking jokes and pop culture references to keep parents entertained while their offspring awe at flashing images and oscillating soundtracks that will improve impossible-to-evade for years to come. No, what writer Chris Weitz and director Kenneth Branagh present us with here is a film that prefers to get by on its charm alone.

Charming it is. From the settings, which owe as much to the Jane Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et La Bete, as they do to the legacy of Marie Antoinette and Belle Epoque-era France, to Cinderella and Prince Charming, this is a film that entertains its audience by being as pleasing and inoffensive as possible.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, but Cinders’ compliancy with the demands of her controlling step-mother – masterfully played here by Cate Blanchett – and idiotic step-sisters does seem questionable to modern audiences raised in the post-feminist, post-Bechdel test era. Why in God’s name does she put up with them without at least resorting to passive aggression? To honour her deceased mother’s advice to always be to kind in this situation is to allow herself to be, at the very, least used.

It is the job of Downton Abbey alumna Lily James, who plays Cinderella, then to convince viewers that her core goodness is such that in spite of such treatment her spirit will never be broken. James is an excellent choice for Cinderella possessed with the kind of pure-skinned beauty and seeming lack of guile that could very much belong to both country girl and princess, and could no doubt charm a Prince into searching a kingdom for her.

Audience members aware of the fairy tale’s original metaphorical use for the glass slipper being the perfect fit for Cinderella’s dainty feet (they have sex) will no doubt be rewarded by the breathy ecstasy exhibited by James when Scots actor Richard Madden as the Prince (or ‘Kit’ as he prefers and if you really must) places the shoe on her foot. Perfectly safe for children to watch, it’s snortingly amusing in context.

Other joys to behold are the costumes worn by Cate Blanchett in a villainous turn as Cinders’ step-mother and the outfits worn by Sophie McShera and Holliday Granger as her step-sisters. Here, Blanchett not so much channels Joan Crawford as Faye Dunaway playing Crawford in Mommy Dearest, while wearing a range of acidically-toned New Look by Dior-style dresses – she really is quite fabulous. Meanwhile, the costumes her daughters wear appear to have been inspired by chi-chi lap dogs and made from discarded Quality Street wrappers. They too are fabulous in wholly horrifying ways.

These outfits though are not the ones audience members will have been waiting for. That privilege, of course, belongs to the sparkling blue ball dress worn by James when her fairy godmother (an oddly toothy Helena Bonham Carter) transforms her for a night at the ball. The blue glittery piece of silk chiffon puff with corset waist is meant to pay beautiful tribute to the gown worn in Walt Disney’s animated version of this story from 1950, and probably does. It also looks like something Sarah Ferguson, the notoriously badly dressed Duchess of York would have worn circa 1987 but, unlike, Cinders and her Prince, we cannot have it all.

 

Alisande Healy Orme

G (See IFCO for details)
105 minutes

Cinderella is released 27th March 2015

Cinderella – Official Website

 

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The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivot

TSS Day 20 "The young and Prodigious Spivet" Photo: Jan Thijs

DIR: Jean-Pierre Jeunet • WRI: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Reif Larsen, Guillaume Laurant • PRO: Frédéric Brillion, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Gilles Legrand, Suzanne Girard, Brian Oliver • ED: Hervé Schneid • DOP: Thomas Hardmeier • CAST: Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, Callum Keith Rennie, Niamh Wilson, Jakob Davies

The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivot is a sublime and tantalizing feast for any dedicated cinephile. It marks the return of Jean Pierre Jeunet into the cultural Zeitgeist after the mish mash that was his last film, the poorly reviewed Mic Macs. Adapted by Jeunet from the book by  Reif Larsen The Selected Works of TS Spivet, the film is essentially a coming-of-age story about young wunderkind T.S Spivot candily portrayed by  Kyle Catlett.

T.S Spivott, child genius, prodigy lives Montana with his loving but oblivious parents. Things take an interesting turn when Spivot seemingly creates a perpetual motion machine and runs away to Washington to receive a Smithsonian award. Overall the film  doesnt pack the same energetic punch as Delicatession or Amelie. This is a much more wistful and sombre film, an exploration of mise en scene and of the nature of illusion.

Jeunet’s imagery captivates the randomness and colour of Spivot’s imagination in saturated colours and blown-out images. This is a carefully constructed film, the product of a master craftsman.  Helana Bonham Carter and Judy Davis have notable performances. Spivott certainly marks a return to form for Jeunet though perhaps too sombre a return to make any noticeable impact.

Michael Lee

 

105 mins

The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivot is released on 13th June 2014

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Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

DIR: Tim Burton • WRI: Linda Woolverton• PRO: Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd, Richard D. Zanuck • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Chris Lebenzon • DES: Robert Stromberg • CAST: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

For many, the idea of Tim Burton not only getting his hands on the wherewithal to finally add 3-D to his dreamscape pictures, but also to inject Alice with some 21st century pizzazz, was a match made in Wonderland. Happily, cohorts Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp soon joined the bandwagon, and the movie was deemed all but perfect before a single scene had been viewed.

Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to these illustrious beginnings – and what could! – it nevertheless brings to screen one of the liveliest, most mesmerising and downright entertaining re-imaginings of Alice ever…well…imagined. Burton is the perfect mix of darkness and light to capture the literary nonsense of Lewis Carroll’s fragmented tale of stunted growth and avoided adolescence. What Burton has done, (to some purists’ eternal chagrin), has combined both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and joined the fragments of both to create a more linear narrative. Whilst this might nullify some of the more nonsensical elements of the original tales, what it does do is make for an easier-to-follow storyline, and a more satisfying denouement. It’s worth remembering, though, that even when a tale is linear in the world of Tim Burton, it does not necessarily make for a straightforward movie!

Depp, of course, is mesmerising as the Mad Hatter – as he mentioned himself, what he wanted to bring to his character was fear at his own madness. It’s all very well being mad when you don’t realise it – a lot of people can get on quite happily like that – but if you know that you are crazy, and can’t always control it, then it becomes a fearful thing. His menacing Glaswegian accent highlights the intensity, as does his post-enhanced massive eyes, but beneath it all, Depp is as at home in this wonderful world as in all of his Burton escapades. Bonham Carter’s Red Queenie is a comic mix of foolishness, conceit and globular head – her impeccable skills keeping it from farce, and Anne Hathaway’s good queen is regal and charming, and just a little bit nuts herself. Not to forget the surprisingly-older titular Alice, all confusion and gumption, brought together winningly by Mia Wasikowska. Add to this the anthropomorphic array of delightful creatures that cross her path – from Stephen Fry’s Chesire Cat, through Alan Rickman’s Caterpillar, and Christopher Lee’s terrifying Jabberwock – and the Wonderland is complete.

The 3-D may have been added after shooting, and certainly contains some cheap ‘throw-things-at-the-audience’ shots, but Burton’s dreamlike mindscape is exactly what 3-D has been waiting for. Fantasy, adventure, a wonderland below our earth, a cast of colourful characters, and logic out the window: these things make for a movie event that begs to be experienced in big screen. What Burton does better than any other director – perhaps with the exception of Wes Anderson – is use the cinema screen as his own personal canvas, painting scenes of such obvious delight that you can’t help but be carried away with his enthusiasm. So what if Avril Lavigne maligns your ears with a rendition of Alice? So what if the Hatter’s dance seems totally out of place and meant for toddlers? So what if he takes liberties with an acknowledged hotchpotch of literary ideas? The fact remains that when Tim Burton makes a movie, anything goes, and everything works in its own way.

All in all, niggly doubts aside, Burton has brought Alice’s Wonderland to life as only he can: fantastical, beautiful, and a wonder to behold.

Sarah Griffin
(See biog here)

Rated PG (see IFCO for details)

Alice in Wonderland is released 5th Mar 2010

Alice in Wonderland – Official Website

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