Directed By: Sarah Gavron

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, Ben Whishaw, and Meryl Streep

The best cinematic experiences are often the ones from which moviegoers take away something, the ones from which they learn something.  Entertainment and education aren't mutually exclusive objectives in filmmaking.  With all the adaptations we're seeing during this particular awards season, it's safe to say that we as a movie-going public ought to get a lesson or two this fall.  I can't profess to be an expert in the history of women's rights in the United Kingdom, so this weekend's Suffragette certainly proves to be one of those educational films for me.  I'm sure many of you can relate.

It's 1912.  At the orders of Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), the city of London is being ravaged by civil disobedience.  Known as suffragettes, women that have joined the movement are fighting for equality and that most precious right to vote.  As windows are broken by rocks and mailboxes are blown up all over the city, working class woman Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) works away as a launderer at a local establishment.  Wife to Sonny (Ben Whishaw) and mother to their son George (Adam Michael Dodd), she has responsibilities.  Despite witnessing the movement first hand on the streets and the horrible acts her government perpetrates to suppress it, she refuses to join the movement, until Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) walks into her life.

As Maud gets to know Violet, she learns more about the movement.  Maud is re-introduced by Violet to Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), whom she knows as her local pharmacist and doctor for George.  Though reluctant, Maud even joins the women at a hearing at Parliament on the vote for women.  Still, she makes it abundantly clear that she's not a suffragette.  As fate would have it, Maud actually steps in to speak of her experiences as a launderer at Parliament because Violet has had a rather brutal day.  Violet’s disheveled appearance would take away from her testimony.  

Based on a rather pleasant testimony, Maud puts her faith in the political establishment and is quickly disappointed thereafter.  While amongst a group of suffragettes, she learns of Parliament's backwards decision to continue denying women the right to vote.  When that group gets a bit rowdy and the police get involved, Maud finds herself in a rather tricky position.  She looks like a suffragette.  She acts like a suffragette.  She spends time with the suffragettes.  Frankly, she is a suffragette in the making.  Moreover, this new reality threatens to tear her family apart.  It also draws the attention of police officer Steed (Brendan Gleeson), a man leading the charge locally against the suffragettes.

One of the failures of Danny Boyle's recent Steve Jobs is that it localizes a grand story without conveying its larger-than-life nature.  Sarah Gavron doesn't make the same mistake with her period piece Suffragette.  She localizes the narrative with fictional character Maud Watts but still manages to convey the significance of the women's suffrage movement in Britain.  She does so by effectively telling the grander tale of the movement through a smaller lens, through the eyes of Maud.  In doing so, she doesn't lose the bigger picture.  All in all, Suffragette is one entertaining history lesson.

Gavron employs many cinematic devices throughout this period piece to recreate this male-dominated British society hostile to women in every way.  With terrific costumes and set design, she sets the scene quite well in early twentieth century London.  With dark, gritty cinematography and dirt-like makeup, she gives us the working class masses of the era in the heat of dangerous and, at times, disgusting jobs.  With smaller clues and cues such as portraits, newspapers, and developments in the background, she accentuates and accelerates the grander tale of women's suffrage.  It's really a rather smart move by Gavron.

The performances are top notch, and there are two types of characters we see amongst the suffragettes.  There are the younger women who transform in some way throughout the film based on their life experiences, and then there are the older women who are hardened in their stance for suffrage.  Just look at the clear contrast between Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter as Maud Watts and Edith Ellyn respectively.  For her part, Mulligan definitely transitions Maud from a quiet working class girl into a fighter for the movement no matter the personal cost.  Meanwhile, Bonham Carter's Edith is there fighting the good fight and will continue to do so as long and hard as she can.  To a lesser extent, a similar argument can be made for Anne-Marie Duff and Meryl Streep in their parts as Violet Miller and Emmeline Pankhurst respectively in performances that mirror Mulligan and Bonham Carter.  It's really interesting work done here by the ensemble cast.

You'll learn a lot from Suffragette, including the odd tidbit that Switzerland did not give women the right to vote astonishingly until 1973.  It's an educational cinematic experience that's equally entertaining.  It may get some awards love as the season rolls onward, but I can't quite put my finger on how much love.  Still, the film is one of the stronger entries this fall so far.  Suffragette gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.