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Suffragette’s Disappointing Battle: Never Has Women’s Suffrage Been So Boring

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02.23.SCREEN.suffragetteIn a tense moment in Suffragette, famed women’s rights activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) bellows, “We don’t want to be lawbreakers; we want to be lawmakers!” to the cheers of women below. It’s one of approximately 30 highly quotable lines peppered throughout the film, providing more than enough fodder for one of the best, most exciting movie trailers I’ve seen in a while.

The movie, though, isn’t as exciting: Our heroine, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), begins the film as a laundress, wife, and mother who’s called to the cause of suffrage for English women not by some grand moment, but by a series of small humiliations and peer pressure. She makes friends with other activists and stands up to her dick-ish husband, but she doesn’t rise in the ranks and—spoiler!—she isn’t the one who changes everything. Watts is just your average gal, trying to balance work and family and activism, to have it all.

The UK women’s suffrage movement was totally badass—they made bombs and go all Guy Fawkes—but Suffragette’s focus on quiet moments with the humble Watts misses a lot of opportunities for more of what we wanna see. And oddly, the movie fades to a close before the women even win anything. We know they won, of course, but I wanted to see that capital-T Triumph! I wanted the flash. Not only because I’m a stupid American filmgoer who needs the payoff (which I obviously am), but because the movement had it! It was all right there, in secret meetings and civil disobedience and destruction and jail! Suffragette just doesn’t deliver.

I don’t especially like making this criticism, because I still want to encourage you to see this movie about women tearing shit up. But if you’re looking for tons of action, it isn’t in Suffragette. It’s 2015. Shouldn’t we be able to—dare I say it?—have it all?


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