FILM REVIEW: Suffragette

It’s a great credit to director Sarah Gavron that Suffragette works as well as it does given that its certificate of classification is a mere 12A.
With a combination of violence, death, the plight of the downtrodden and at times harrowing emotional trauma, one would not be surprised to see such content given a considerably more adult classification, but for once it can confidently be assumed that in the case of Suffragette, it’s not all about a 12A, bums-on-seats and the ker-ching of the cash register, it’s a film of importance and one that really ought to be seen, by both genders and all generations.
Suffragette follows the story of Maud, who, like many women of the time, had her existence mapped out for her as a mother, dutiful housewife and additional bread winner; in Maud’s case, working in an industrial laundry for a predictably odious male boss.
Essentially, Maud, like many of her female peers, is expected to be a superwoman, juggling both hers and her family’s lives, shorn of any of the credit that might be attributed to such a role in a fair and just society.
This is the early 1900s and despite the well established order of things, there are rumblings afoot, with the suffragette movement, whilst still very cloak and dagger, gaining momentum behind the scenes and with a stubborn refusal by the top echelons to acknowledge female voting rights, it’s a movement that is having to increasingly resort to ever more dramatic means in order to be heard and more importantly, be taken seriously.
It is such politicised circles that increasingly envelop young Maud despite her understandable initial reticence to be involved.
Once on board however, with repercussions potentially severe for her and her new comrades, there is no turning back.
Carey Mulligan is excellent as young mother Maud, whilst there are strong performances from a support cast including Helena Bonham Carter as Edith Ellyn and Ben Whishaw as Sonny Watts. There’s even a brief cameo from Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, whose address to an assembled female contingent by cover of night, implores the suffragettes to resort to ever more violent and drastic means in order to make their point.
In an ever changing world; one which has taken great strides in the area of gender equality over the last few decades, it does however remain a world, to a large extent, still dominated by a frequently destructive male psyche.
There are roles to fulfil in life, some arguably suited to specific sexes better than others. With acknowledgment of this fact and respect attributed accordingly, with an equal say for all in how such roles are to be fulfilled and managed, a better balanced and contented society can surely flourish?
Suffragette is a compelling and powerful piece that addresses the very roots of the issue and acts as a both a reminder and a template for the future, for all of us.
Recommended.

 

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FILM REVIEW: The Lady In The Van

 

The Lady In The Van (TLITV) is a film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s 1999 stage play of the same name, chronicling an event which went on to form a sizeable chunk of the writer’s life.
We are informed that it is, by and large, a true story with only slight embellishments.
The film’s opening sequence makes it clear that ‘Mary’ has been involved in a driving incident of some sort and fearful of the consequences of her involvement, is now running from the law.
Jim Broadbent – here conjuring up memories of Chief Inspector Roy Slater of Only Fools and Horses fame – is an occasional presence throughout as now retired but still wily and rather unethical, officer Underwood, a man who simply can’t let an unresolved case lie.
Fast forward a little: Mary, now an older and rather eccentric lady, emerges one day on a leafy street in inner London, driving a clapped out old van, replete with a still shattered windscreen, a casualty of the long since past, but not forgotten incident.
Parked at ever changing slots alongside the street kerb, the residents are all suitably sympathetic to her plight until that is, her wheels roll up outside their driveways!
What will the neighbours think, indeed…?!
More to the point, just what is Mary’s (or should that be, Margaret’s) real story and why is this dishevelled little old lady hiding out here on a leafy, 1970s Camden side road?
On lending a hand with her van one day, unwittingly, Alan Bennett begins the perplexing and at times arduous process of finding out; committing himself in the process to a ‘friendship’ with Mary, of a duration and peculiarity that he could only ever have imagined, or perhaps written about.
Maggie Smith plays Mary, and is evidently an actress still at the very peak of her powers, with a performance of genuinely great depth and conviction. Hers is a mesmerising portrayal of this mysterious and stubborn old boot.
Interestingly, Bennett – played here in understated fashion by Alex Jennings – is portrayed visually as a man of two halves, both of whom are in frequent, almost playful disagreement with one another. One Bennett lives his day-to-day, apparently unexceptional existence, the other, the creative ‘writer’ Bennett toils away at a typewriter by the window, in full view of Mary’s van, which is by now parked on his driveway, such are her persuasive powers. It and Mary herself have also by now become the focal point of his writing.
Fifteen years or so hosting a driveway lodger inevitably produces its ups and downs, not to mention a wealth of writing material as slowly, Mary’s remarkable story and her true identity for that matter, are revealed.
Interestingly, Mary is not painted as some great cathartic presence in Bennett’s life, or even somebody from whom he acquires some great insight or self-realisation. Indeed, Bennett at times just about tolerates her trying presence and the catalogue of annoyances that go along with it. It is however an unassuming friendship based more upon tolerance and empathy than any great telepathic understanding or deep rooted connection between them. Somehow though, it’s an arrangement that suits them both.
It’s a bitter-sweet and beautifully considered work from Director Nicholas Hytner, combining both the tender and heart warming, with the genuinely amusing.
Even a potentially misjudged Terry Gilliam-esque scene at the film’s finalé seems not to detract from TLITV‘s core message and sentiment,
providing in fact a somehow fitting, upbeat and joyous conclusion.
Genuinely wonderful stuff.