Trailers lie. The trailer for this movie made it appear that it had a gripping and visceral story to tell, that Meryl Streep had a central role to play, and that the characters had a real sense of dimension. None of that is true. Some of the cinematography is beautiful, but the loose, wobbly camera finally proves to be a distraction. The close-ups are wonderfully well lit with their gauzy, soft-focus backgrounds, but too many shots are only marginally in focus. Carey Mulligan is a stunning woman, but in a movie that’s an hour and forty-six minutes long, it seems like there are two hours of images of her face. And the story just keeps winding around and back on itself.
First women don’t seem to have any rights; they’re paid less than men for longer hours; they’re subservient to their husbands; they have no control over what happens to their children. There are lots of shots of women working in a laundry. Then they get arrested whenever they proclaim their right to vote, despite volunteering in a large building where, carved in granite on the outside, it says “Voting Rights for Women.” So, they organize, they languish in jail, then one of their members gets killed in a very public way – and somehow that convinces everyone that women should vote. I’m not really ruining the plot for you; I’ve saving you from seeing this story that could have been told more excitingly in a thirty-second commercial.
The way it’s told here is incomplete, not very interesting, and oh so very slow. Women gaining the right to vote – which didn’t happen in London until sixteen years after this story takes place – was an important step forward. Its story should come with more suspense, more drama, a greater understanding of what was at stake. It’s testimony to the talent of Carey Mulligan that there is any emotion in this movie at all; as it is, she creates only two heart-breaking moments – one giving testimony in Parliament, the other reminding her son of his mother’s name. But two moments do not a good movie make and this one fails to engage – or entertain — on any level.