Review: History feels like a slog in ‘Suffragette’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Suffragette” is a film about radicals that doesn’t have a radical bone in its body.

Director Sarah Gavron’s film tells the story of the women who fought for equality and the right for women to vote in early 1900s England. It’s an important story, but it is scared to rock the boat and suffers as a result.

Carey Mulligan plays Maud Watts, a wife and mother working as a laundress in 1912 London. Protests are erupting around her, and the movie focuses on her political awakening.

Maud is a fictional character, so while her hardships may be true to the time — she is jailed after participating in a public demonstration, and her thinly characterized husband turns his back on her and suddenly gives their child up for adoption — they reek of storytelling hurdles placed in front of her by screenwriter Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”).

Meanwhile, the real-life character of Emily Davison (Natalie Press) — whose sacrifice, depicted at the film’s climax, galvanized the women’s rights movement — feels like an afterthought, like if a movie about the Beatles concentrated on a fictional roadie and barely introduced John Lennon.

As a pharmacist-turned-bombmaker, Helena Bonham Carter has a juicy role that she’s barely allowed to bite into. And as political activist Emmeline Pankhurst, Meryl Streep does the equivalent of a driveby, appearing in only two scenes that don’t merit her presence in the film’s advertising.

“Suffragette” is a meaningful history lesson, but as a movie, it plays like a slog through history class. Surely the women whose story it tells had more blood pumping through their veins than this drab retelling does.



Rated PG-13: for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity

Running time: 106 minutes