One of the most anticipated films to hit the festival circuit, Suffragette, debuted at Telluride last night to mostly rave reviews but also with a few exceptions that call out the script as being uninspired and that even at a quick 106 minutes the film can feel like a slog. Almost unanimous praise for Carey Mulligan’s lead performance should be exactly what Focus Features was hoping for. After quite a mixed reception at Venice yesterday, The Danish Girl and its lead, Alicia Vikander, might be taking a back seat to the Sarah Gavron’s women’s right to vote picture.
One nice surprise was the good ink for Anne-Marie Duff. While probably not that well known to American audiences, the BAFTA-nominated actress has been a staple in British film and television for nearly 20 years. She’s played supporting roles in The Magdalene Sisters, Notes on a Scandal and The Last Station but might be best known for playing Fiona Gallagher in the original British version of the TV show Shameless. This looks to be her big breakout role and that she appears to outshine two-time Academy Award nominee Helena Bonham Carter is nothing short of remarkable.
Praise for Gavron’s direction, the costumes, production design and Alexandre Desplat’s score all are in contention for Oscar nominations at this point and even with some of the less than glowing reviews the film should be able to hit high notes with AMPAS voters.
[box type=”shadow” align=”alignleft” class=”” width=””]Mulligan gives Maud equal measures of dignity and desperation and avoids over-playing her hand throughout. It’s a stripped-down, naked performance, as is that of Anne-Marie Duff. Those expecting (or led to expect, from the posters) Meryl Streep to turn out for her Iron Lady writer Abi Morgan with a barnstorming pivotal performance will be disappointed, as the actress is restricted to one Eva Peron-like balcony sequence.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”alignleft” class=”” width=””]The film is an important one, terse and poignant, and with Hillary Clinton possibly becoming our nation’s first female President, it manages to hit the zeitgeist a bit as well. However, there is something missing in the final act that keeps the Suffragette from being a complete success, and without wanting to spoil anything, the film feels a little ascetic in the end, missing what could be that one final great scene to culminate what Gavron set out to do.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”alignleft” class=”” width=””]Gavron holds Mulligan’s face in tight closeup through the film, rarely pulling back for long shots. No director has ever done that with this actress so that what appears as vulnerability throughout her work is transformed here as inner strength that only the camera can catch when pulled in close. With her half smile, her heavy lidded sad eyes, Mulligan’s Maud Watts is her best performance to date. Mulligan is the reason to see this film and is the thing that will make this film impossible to ignore come awards time. She carries it the way women used to back when they were given these kinds of opportunities.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”alignleft” class=”” width=””]Carey Mulligan carries this movie as ably as she did “Far from the Madding Crowd.” She plays Maud, a 24-year-old workhorse laundry drudge who is drawn into the suffragette cause by a co-worker (the excellent Anne-Marie Duff) and local pharmacist (Helena Bonham Carter). The harshness of Maud’s daily work life (her shoulder is scarred from past burns), where the factory boss hits on the younger women, contrasts with her cozy life at home with her husband (Ben Whishaw) and young son.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”alignleft” class=”” width=””]A lushly appointed period piece about the women’s suffrage movement in England in the early 20th century sounds like Masterpiece Theatre fodder, polite and tasteful and a bit pallid.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”alignleft” class=”” width=””]If only Carey Mulligan had been inspired to protest for the right to a better script for “Suffragette,” an overly schematic look at the struggle for women’s voting rights in 1910s Britain that almost gets by on the strength of a great slow burn of a lead performance. As much as the movie wants to overplay its hand at virtually every turn, Mulligan just as surely undersells the transformations that her initially mousy laundry worker undergoes on the way to suffragette city.[/box]