Tuesday, 20 October 2015


I was dithering over whether to see Suffragette; it sounded a bit predictable. But then my neighbours' builders struck up this morning, hammering and banging and that decided me ... I needed to be out of the house and luckily there was an 11am show. With me and about two other people there.
It looks stunning. The costumes and the sweatshops are amazing. Carey Mulligan is on excellent form as Maud who works in a Bethnal Green laundry, her arms scalded by hot water... with heavy hints that she has been sexually abused from girlhood by her slimy boss. And I enjoyed location-spotting: that was Princelet Street in Spitalfields, for sure, and the bandstand in Arnold Circus and the Boundary Estate.
But, oh lord, is it predictable and the characters feel like composite types rather than real people. But what irritated me most was the feeling that audiences are being fed a line of kneejerk PC feminism that ignores the realities of history. How much money gets poured into a film like this ... is the research really so shoddy, or is it just glossed over for the sake of simplistic dramatic cliche? When Carey Mulligan's weedy little husband (Ben Whishaw, miscast) asks her what she'd do with her vote and she says, same as you ...
That's when we should remember that men didn't have the vote either! At least, not men who worked in laundries in Bethnal Green. If he didn't get killed at Ypres, Ben Whishaw would have voted for the first time in December, 1918. (If women had been enfranchised on the same terms as men, they would have outnumbered them because of wartime mortality but that would have been politically unthinkable - and so yes, of course, it's completely unfair that as a young, working-class woman Maud/Carey still wouldn't have qualified until 1928.)
So yes, the Suffragettes make great costume drama for the Downton generation (and I'm sure I'd have loved this film when I was in my teens, without sparing a thought for poor Ben Whishaw and his ilk). But the story of universal suffrage is a much longer, and more interesting story than Votes for Women.
Even if a movie called Chartist doesn't have the same emotional appeal.

On the other hand, I did enjoy watching the trailers - as I haven't been to the cinema for weeks and weeks - and Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn and Patricia Highsmith's Carol both look promising and coming soon.

8 comments:

Toffeeapple said...

Thank you Mary, that has saved me from shelling out for an afternoon's boredom.

mary said...

I wasn't bored, Toffeeapple - it was just predictable and fell a bit flat, and there's maybe something wrong when you're more engaged with the look of the thing than anything else. i

Sue said...

I thought it looked a bit predictable when I saw a trailer. That's an unforgivable inaccuracy though. For many years voting was the privilege of class, age and wealth even after women got the vote.

mary said...

It's a shame it ended up as a bog-standard costume drama, Sue.
I was trying to think what the property qualification was for rentpayers - long-forgotten though I know I learned it at school!

Cosy Books said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this when it comes around, if for no other reason than it's not a movie featuring caped crusaders from comic books.

mary said...

That I can definitely promise you, Darlene! And I'm sure you'll enjoy the London locations.

Katharine A said...

I've seen the film now. Took my 12 & 16 year old daughters. Makes you see things differently when you have a 12 r=yr old sitting next to you, particularly th 12 yr old in the laundry who was abused by the boss. Very uncomfortable watching. I agree with your comments. It all looked a bit too clean, would the prison & living conditions have been that clean? But hats off to Ann-Marie Duff who I thought was amazing.

mary said...

It was very clean, you're right, Katherine! Do you remember the TV series Shoulder to Shoulder; I think I was probably still at school when it was on? I discovered it on YouTube and - making allowances for a much lower budget - thought it held up rather well, and made Suffragette seem rather dumbed-down. The early episodes are best; it tailed off a bit towards the end - but it's very good on the tensions/rivalries within the Pankhurst family.