The new film about the women’s suffrage movement is respectful, handsomely made, and dull.
Sometimes a movie is so polite, so upstanding and solidly well-intentioned, that it’s hard to criticize it, or like it. Not a bad movie—a perfectly fine movie—but one so safely made, so engineered to swell and stir the hearts of audiences (or Academy voters) that it forgets to have any real point of view. We get one or two of these movies, very often biopics or historical dramas, pretty much every awards season, earnest middle-of-the-roaders that sometimes get a little heat, but more often simply come and go after a few modest notices. This year, perhaps no movie better fits that particular bill than Suffragette, Sarah Gavron’s sturdy, unthrilling book report about the women’s-suffrage movement in Great Britain.
The publicity campaign for Suffragette has tried to give the film some contemporary edge—pop covers of songs in the trailer, tough-looking posters—and certainly millennials’ heightened consciousness about social-justice issues makes the film’s civil-rights themes relevant to today. But the film itself is far from revolutionary; though Gavron and her cinematographer, Eduard Grau, shoot with the wandering, lyrical shakiness favored of arty cinema these days (the film looks lovely and textured), Abi Morgan’s screenplay is as square as can be, a dutifully laid out piece of exposition with some personal emotional turmoil thrown in to give us a sense of what all this history meant for the individual. Suffragette trundles along well enough, all noble and serious, but it doesn’t get the blood up the way a protest movie probably should.