I love how this movie is pushing Meryl Streep’s involvement and she has merely one scene. And in that scene, she’s rather distracting. It’s not that powerful, you never stop being reminded (especially with Streep), that this film is Oscar bait. Oh, and if Streep gets the nomination for a mere cameo appearance, that would be insane.
It was also a bit distracting to think about how Streep has been shouting lately about how women should make the same as men for doing the same job. That’s an argument that isn’t accurate, as men and women do make the same pay for the job; does Streep realize she gets more than male actors in her movies? Or that Jennifer Lawrence, who also has complained a lot lately, makes $40 million a film — more than 99% of the male actors in Hollywood. But that’s a debate for another day. This film deals with a time when women didn’t make the same as men, and they didn’t have the same rights. It portrays the working class woman in 1912 London brilliantly. Props to the prop department — Jane Petrie doing costume design, Alice Normington on production design, and Edu Grau for cinematography that has superb detail.
Carey Mulligan is perfectly cast as a woman working a tough job in a laundry, where she’s been employed since she was a young child. The relationship with her husband (Ben Whinshaw) was done brilliantly. He’s not an evil ogre, but a working-class guy that just wants a family, and to not be ostracized in the community. That relationship was interesting, but we’re left to wonder about so many other ones. Mulligan dealing with her boss, or her admiration of Helena Bonham Carter and how this slowly gets her involved in the suffragette movement. Carter’s role is smartly understated at times, but other times you’re wondering about more of her backstory. So many of the characters are one-dimensional. It was refreshing that the always reliable Brendon Gleeson, as Detective Steed, was tough but showed some humanity.
Mulligan is given some great lines, but often times it felt a bit manipulative (for example, having such a horrific backstory). Screenwriter Abi Morgan, who gave us the boring Iron Lady, also has a few dull moments in this, too.
There’s also a lot of stuff you’re left to wonder. Emmeline Pankhurst (Streep) tells people to never give up…and it costs these woman an awful lot. Perhaps a follow-up scene at some point to know how she felt about how things turned out would’ve worked nicely — instead of closing credits telling us when other countries got on board with allowing women the right to vote.
The film shouldn’t have relied on so many fictional characters, and not been so heavy-handed and trite. A better narrative on this period piece was needed. These were some brave and hard working women. Their story deserved to be told in a better film. What really keeps it from being a complete disaster are the numerous strong performances.
It gets 2 stars out of 5.