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Review – Suffragette (12a) [2015]

Suffragette - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Sarah Gavron – Brick Lane, Village At The End Of The World

Writer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

The right to vote is an emotionally charged subject. In the UK, the right to vote is a birth-right for citizens of eighteen and above. But we must not forget that this was not always the case, and women had to fight harder to acquire this right.

Suffragette - Maud and her husband in the factory

Maud (Carey Mulligan) working in the grimy laundry factory with her husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw).

At the turn of the twentieth-century, most men could vote in the UK but women could not. Rightly, this caused tension and gave rise to the Suffragette movement, headed by Emmeline Pankhurst. The Suffragettes used ‘direct action’ to bring attention to the injustice of women being unable to vote. Suffragette focuses on this movement, and the consequences these women suffered to bring the injustice of women being denied the right to vote to the forefront of the world’s attention. But, sadly, none of it is done particularly well.

Suffragette is set in London between 1912-13. It is based around real events but our protagonist, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), is fictional. Maud works in a laundry factory, struggling to make ends meet. Appalled at the working conditions and the treatment of women by her boss, Norman Taylor (Geoff Bell), Maud joins the Suffragettes and gradually becomes more and more involved in the movement, despite the consequences of doing so.

Suffragette is a surprisingly bland and uninteresting film. The movie starts off with a funereal drum beat, plus some misogynistic quotes from British politicians taken out of context. This sets the tone for a highly unsophisticated, puerile and uneventful outlook of the era and the movement. Alas, the film does not improve as it goes on. Worse, the film becomes sterile, making its 106-minute run time seem considerably longer.

Maud at a demonstration for women's right to vote with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff, left) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, right).

Maud at a demonstration for women’s right to vote with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff, left) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, right).

For all the film’s sterility, Suffragette grapples well (and not so well) with some of the issues plaguing the era. The film successfully shows us that conditions in factories were horrible back then; that people were much more patriotic back then toward the monarchy and the country compared to nowadays; that women, their offspring and their properties were controlled by their (abusive) husbands; that the Suffragettes adopted dubious, violent, and borderline-terrorist methods to get their message heard; and that the Suffragettes were treated harshly in prison. This gives us some insight into the mindset and workings of pre-World War I British society, which is interesting.

But, alas, all of the above is tackled only at a shallow level in the film. Moreover, by the end of Suffragette, one learns little else about the era, other than that all the men were ignorant, misogynistic, lying, woman-beaters, and that all the women were heroines monolithically united in their struggle to get the vote. This is woefully unrepresentative of the era and unacceptably simplistic. If anything, this tells us more about script-writer Abi Morgan than about the era she wishes to portray. It is almost as if Morgan is more interested in imposing her opinions (propaganda) upon her audiences than portraying history fairly. Then again, this is not the first time that Morgan has imposed her views on viewers and portrayed history unfairly. She did it in The Iron Lady by riding roughshod over Margaret Thatcher. So should viewers really have gone into Suffragette expecting an honest portrayal of the Suffragette movement and the era, with Morgan having written the movie?

The lack of objectivity in the film means that the cast of Suffragette have one hand tied behind their backs from the outset. In spite of this, however, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff and Natalie Press (who plays Emily Davison) all perform decently. Also, Meryl Streep puts in a solid cameo as the fire-brand Emmeline Pankhurst.

Maud being counselled in custody by Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson).

Maud being counselled in custody by Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson).

Nevertheless, the cast are further let down by clunky dialogue and by the lack of depth in their characters. Both of these have the knock-on effect of rendering the cast unsympathetic and lifeless. And when a predominantly female cast comes across as unsympathetic and lifeless about a subject as emotive and justifiable as the right for women to vote, something is seriously wrong with the film.

Over-all, Suffragette is a very disappointing movie. Yes, the film effectively highlights that women in the UK did not have the right to vote at the turn of the twentieth-century and that the Suffragettes brought the issue to the world’s attention with their antics. All the same, though, the film portrays the era and the Suffragette movement in an inexcusably one-dimensional, immature manner. Consequently, the movie is dull and if it wasn’t for the cast, the movie would have been duller still.

Considering that the issue Suffragette deals with has such emotion behind it, it is stunning how little emotion Suffragette evokes. This is an injustice to the women (Suffragette or otherwise) who put their lives on the line back then to win the right to vote in the UK; and it is an injustice to all women in the world who still put their lives on the line to win such rights today.

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Review – Shame (18) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Few would consider having an active sex-life to be a bad thing. But what if one were to suffer from a compulsive need for sex? Such a problem exists in society. Shame, despite its faults and gloominess, illustrates the torment that this syndrome can cause people.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) eying up a girl on the train like a predator.

The film centres round Brandon (Michael Fassbender – 300, X-Men: First Class, Prometheus), a high-flying manager or executive (in a job that is not defined), who cannot control his urge for sex. In his nice, relatively up-market flat in New York City, he hires prostitutes/escorts or watches pornography endlessly. At work, he watches pornography (to the extent of having his hard-drive removed because it’s filled with viruses) before going to the bathroom to masturbate. Every woman he sets eyes upon is a potential victim of his insatiable lust.

Yet, none of this appears to make Brandon any happier. Soon his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan – An Education, Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps, Suffragette) comes to stay at his apartment, bringing out the worst in his frustrations and temper.

Shame’s plot is simple, but morbid. The mental torture that Brandon suffers from is excruciating (despite having an addiction that many would consider to be pleasurable). Unlike with Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, played by Ben Barnes in the 2009 film, there is no enjoyment in sex for Brandon (or deal with the devil for that matter). Sex is just a constant, agonising thirst that can never be quenched. The threesome scene near the end reveals the degree of pain this addiction causes him. (Although, how Brandon maintains his stamina for so much sex is quite remarkable. One wonders if there are enough hours in the day for work, exercise and all of that sex.)

Sissy (Carey Mulligan) sitting in her brother’s apartment in need of attention. That’s when she notices her brother’s laptop…

Brandon’s drug-like compulsion for sex and pornography has also come to seemingly destroy any chance of him having a relationship too. When he tries one with Marianne (Nicole Beharie – American Violet, The Express, The Last Fall), a pretty, young work-mate, he finds himself incapable. This is because the idea of love in sex has become an anathema to him.

Yet, apart from Brandon’s uncontrollable lust, Shame’s storyline loses direction quickly. This makes the film’s 101 minutes seem (frustratingly) like it will go on indefinitely. The plot also fails to explain Brandon’s background, as well as badly under-developing his relationships with his messed-up, needy sister; with his amiable and attractive fellow employee; and with his married, but embarrassingly desperate boss, David (James Badge Dale – 24: Day 3, The Departed, The Grey).

If the storyline (even with the explicit sex scenes) doesn’t hold the audience’s attention, Michael Fassbender’s performance certainly will. Fassbender delivers an excellent display that is as intense as it is brave and consistent. His green eyes stare at women like a hawk-bird to its prey. They also hint at an anger and pain, a deep shame, buried within Brandon that he refuses to recognise or counter. Does he do this because his syndrome is apparently humiliating and a taboo subject in society?

Fassbender might be the stand-out performer of the movie, but none of the supporting cast play badly. Carey Mulligan again gives a solid account of herself. She has a very different character here to the ones she played in Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps and Never Let Me Go. Nonetheless, she demonstrates that she can play a whiny, emotionally-deficient, unstable girl, craving affection, with equal plausibility. Similarly, despite their short and limited roles, neither Nicole Beharie nor James Badge Dale damage their reputations with their performances in Shame.

Brandon out with Marianne (Nicole Beharie), seemingly enjoying her company. But has he told her about his compulsive disorder?

The impressiveness of the acting is enhanced when considering that director Steve McQueen (Hunger, 12 Years A Slave) takes long-held shots for much of the film. Many of the scenes have no breaks or changes in camera angles. This style of filming demands immense concentration from the actors. That they make their acts look natural is credible and significant.

McQueen’s other noticeable technique in Shame is to use silence and little music to ram home to viewers Brandon’s loneliness and internal agony. When McQueen does adopt music, it is generally the main soundtrack which is comprised of long-held notes by stringy instruments and a subtle fast-beat. The main theme tune may lack Requiem For A Dream’s soundtrack’s feel of a crisis that is spiralling out of control, but it helps to compound Brandon’s lack of self-worth and his sense of self-hatred.

Over-all, Shame passably explores a problem that is not discussed much or recognised in present-day society. (After-all, one might think, how could having sex regularly be the cause of a major psychological disorder? It should be the other way round, right?) Shame has its deficiencies, it might appear directionless, and it might make for depressing viewing. Nevertheless, Michael Fassbender’s brilliant and courageous performance forces one to empathise with Brandon’s suffering and self-harm, as well as obliges one to appreciate what the syndrome can do to people in general.

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