Mary Poppins Returns

Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep

Director: Rob Marshall

Writer: David Magee


As far as childhood classics go, Mary Poppins isn’t one that I would rank amongst my most cherished. I certainly watched it enough times as a kid and I know it had some kind of lasting effect on me because, despite having never watched it as an adult, I can still picture it clearly in my mind and recall how most of the songs go. Maybe on some level I, like the Banks children, felt like I got what I needed from Poppins at the time when I needed it and that the next time I saw her wouldn’t be until I needed her again. Or maybe I just never got round to it because I was too busy rewatching Star Wars for the umpteenth time. In either case the long-awaited Mary Poppins sequel, which even over fifty years after the original film’s release was probably as inevitable as the Disney Company’s eventual conquest and dystopian, totalitarian dominance of all media and culture is in the near future, wasn’t something that I felt the world or I really needed. Still that’s never stopped Hollywood before so in swoops the magical nanny in the Banks family’s hour of need once again to offer her services as a caretaker, deliver some sage advice and sing a few catchy tunes.

Decades have gone by since her previous visit and Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) are now adults living together in Interwar England with Michael’s three children Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). The Banks family has fallen onto hard times since the death of Michael’s wife and the grieving residents of 17 Cherry Tree Lane are in danger of losing their home. Michael, unable to support his children as an artist, has had to take a job at the bank where his father worked but that alone won’t be enough unless he can find the certificate proving their ownership of the late Mr. Banks’ shares. Enter Mary Poppins (who, despite now looking like Emily Blunt, hasn’t aged a day) armed with her talking parrot umbrella and TARDIS handbag to offer her help in this desperate time. She gets to work immediately with the children and leads them on a whimsical, musical adventure as she imparts upon them such lessons as the necessity of doing their chores, the importance of good manners and, most importantly, how the death of their mother doesn’t mean that her memory and spirit are lost to them. Following them on this journey is local cockney lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda).

Assuming the role created by P.L. Travers and made iconic by Julie Andrews, the always delightful Blunt delivers a pitch-perfect performance as Poppins. Walking that very fine line between being playful but serious, fanciful but elegant, and tender but stern, she manages to evoke and capture the very essence of the maturely childish (or childishly mature) and enchanting nanny in the vein of Andrews without imitating her. She makes the character her own, bringing this knowing smile and sly wink which never betray a thing as she maintains her graceful, dignified composure throughout, remaining at all times as unknowable and imperceptible as Willy Wonka or Totoro. Her performance is an astonishing achievement considering that the film allows her far too few opportunities to actually distinguish herself from her 1964 counterpart and carve out her own path. Nearly every plot development and diversion that occurs is so blatantly a rehash of something that happened in the first film that this purported sequel might as well be a remake. Mary leads the kids into an animated realm where musical hijinks with cartoon animals take place, heads out to meet an eccentric relative for a gravity-defying kerfuffle, and then her working class industrial sidekick launches into a lively song-and-dance number about his profession. It’s only by virtue of Blunt’s uncanny ability to elevate whatever material is handed to her that this incarnation of Poppins feels at all distinct from the one we know.

For a movie that so enthusiastically champions the wonders and possibilities of the imagination, the gratification of learning to see something from a different perspective and the delight and relief that can be found through escapism, Mary Poppins Returns is pretty unimaginative, formulaic and unadventurous. Despite all the time that’s gone by, this new movie feels like it’s trapped in the past and is desperately unable to move forward in any meaningful way, opting to instead retread familiar ground and revisit themes and ideas that the 1964 film already did an adequate job exploring. In the first film, the Banks family weren’t in any particularly sorry state but they all, the father especially, needed Mary Poppins in their lives so that they could be reminded of all the things that truly mattered. For a moment it seems like the second movie go a step further by showing how imagination and good-spiritedness can be used for more than fun and affection, they can be used as a source of comfort and healing in dark times and a means of understanding and solving our greatest worries. That would have been a great moral for the film to teach but it never follows through on that idea. Instead the movie’s lesson seems to be that if you worry less about your real world problems and seek amusement and distraction where you can, those problems will end up solving themselves.

This might not be a huge issue for me if the movie hadn’t done such a good job of establishing the woes of the Banks family and how badly they need a miracle like Mary Poppins to arrive on their doorstep. Usually when a children’s movie has an absent parental figure, it’s a cheap way of scoring some easy sympathy points while saving them the trouble of having to include an additional (usually female) character in their story. Here, the loss of the mother is a constant source of pain and despair for the family and the struggle to cope and move on together is one that the film is actually interested in exploring. There’s a very affective scene where Whishaw sits alone in the attic singing about his beloved where, even though I’m normally not a fan of non-singers being made to perform in musicals, his unpolished vulnerability is just right to get the tears flowing. With this and the additional trouble of the bank threatening to repossess their house, it seems to me that the last thing Michael and the kids need is to be distracted by cartoon musical extravaganzas and dancing lamplighters. They need solutions and fast. Having Poppins fly in to offer a few light-hearted diversions and then presenting the solution that the family needs in the form of a Deus-ex-Machina just doesn’t sit very well with me. It doesn’t feel whimsical, it just feels lazy.

Maybe this is the result of having a fantasy movie where the best scenes tend to take place in the real world. As with the original Mary Poppins this movie is jam-packed with musical sequences, yet few of the new songs that are featured are very memorable. It might not seem fair to say that when you consider that the songs from the first film such as ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ and ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’ have had decades to cement their place in the public’s consciousness, but these are all songs that I remember quite well despite not having watched the film in years. In this case I can barely hum half the songs from the movie’s soundtrack. It’d be one thing for the songs to be unremarkable if their performances were at least fun to watch, but Marshall’s insistence on constantly cutting between wide shots, close ups and reaction shots without framing them in any imaginative way or letting them last long enough for the viewer to really appreciate the extravagance of the sets or the talent on display in the dance choreography puts a stop to any of that. The welcome exception is in the porcelain bowl escapade where Blunt, Miranda and their cartoon animal friends perform a vaudeville piece called ‘The Cover is Not the Book’, the catchy chorus of which does keep returning to my head. That whole sequence is a fun-filled romp where live-action and 2D animation compliment each other in all the right ways and that even manages to put Miranda’s rapping skills to the test as he goes on an elaborate tangent in his Dick Van Dyke cockney accent.

Overall, Mary Poppins Returns is little more than a mostly derivative, sometimes charming and occasionally fantastic distraction. Like half of Disney’s live-action output, it’s a movie that seeks to profit on the back of the nostalgia its title and premise inspire, but there’s a difference between reviving or reinventing a story and recycling it. There’s a way to revisit old stories and compliment, reflect and expand on them without going through the same motions all over again in such a way that it feels like nothing at all has changed and you needn’t have bothered. Disney did it before in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a sequel that followed the same basic story beats as A New Hope, but did so in order to establish a familiar continuity from which they could launch a new story with new characters and to demonstrate the way in which history repeats itself and stories and legends reverberate over time. Here it just feels like Marshall and screenwriter Magee followed the exact same story as before because they couldn’t come up with any better ideas. While it is able to recapture the wondrous past for a few fleeting moments, that it’s constantly looking backwards is the reason why it will never be a classic in its own right.

★★★

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Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, Andy Garcia, Cher, Meryl Streep

Director: Ol Parker

Writer: Ol Parker


I really don’t want to be that guy. I know that this movie wasn’t made for me. I know that the people it was made for love it to bits. I know that I’m the boring spoilsport at the karaoke party who’s sulking in the corner while everybody else is singing, dancing and having tremendous fun. I know that the movie is fully aware of how silly, cheesy and imperfect it is and embraces it all with total zeal and complete shamelessness. This is a movie without pretension or delusions of grandeur; there is no artistry to be dissected and scrutinised, no hidden truths or deeper meanings to be unearthed, and no profound or introspective thoughts or feelings to be taken away so that people like me can flex their movie critic muscles. All this movie wants is for you to lay back, let your hair down, open your mind and just laugh, sing along and embrace the joy, the glam and the ABBA of it all. Believe me, I get it. And I hated it all the same.

I really don’t want to be the guy who hates Mamma Mia. I like ABBA. And I like musicals. And I like many of the actors involved, both new and returning. But watching these movies is like being a teetotal introvert alone at a boozy music festival, even the most honest attempt to embrace the discomforting noise and clutter and humour the chaotic revelry is going to leave you drained from the monotony and effort. ‘Then why would you even bother going?’ you might ask. Well, I came for the music but, instead of ABBA, I got the amateur cover band made up of X-Factor rejects. What followed was a song-and-dance cataclysm that got more unbearable with every flat note, every clumsy dance routine and every obnoxiously garish sound and visual. I know that the goofiness and crudeness is kind of the point and for many it is part of the film’s charm, but all I can think about was how swept away I was by The Greatest Showman. Like Mamma Mia, that movie was stupid, clichéd and corny as hell but it was all done with such passion, creativity and honest-to-god effort by such a talented team (including actors who can actually sing and dance) that I couldn’t help but be charmed. What I find most grating about the Mamma Mia movies above all else is how feckless and insincere the whole thing feels.

Here We Go Again is pretty much everything I loathed about the first film sans Meryl Streep (who wasn’t all that great in the first place; she barely hit a note in ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and deserves far more attention for her heartfelt rendition of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’). Donna has died and her loss has left a gaping hole in the lives of those who lived on that idyllic Greek island with her. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is working to re-open the inn in her mother’s honour (having renamed it the Hotel Bella Donna) and is frantic as the opening night approaches and she’s trying to put the finishing touches on the big party she’s planning. Her mother’s friends Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) arrive to show their support and share with her stories of the Donna they knew as a young woman back when she looked like Lily James (James, with her sunny presence and decent singing voice, is one of the film’s better qualities). In these flashbacks we are treated to the tale of how the free-spirited Donna first came to the island back in the groovy 70s, made it her home, and on the way met and slept with the three men who may or may not be Sophie’s father: the bashful Harry (Hugh Skinner), the adventurous Bill (Josh Dylan) and the dashing Sam (Jeremy Irvine), standing in for Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård and Pierce Brosnan respectively.

Having used up most of ABBA’s most recognisable hits in the first film, Here We Go Again scrapes the barrel for whatever overlooked tracks and B-songs it can find to shoehorn into the story. We’re first introduced to young Donna as she sings ‘When I Kissed the Teacher’, a song that’s sure to get a staff member at her university sacked, we get young Harry singing about how sleeping with Donna would be his ‘Waterloo’ (whatever that means), and we’re treated to a version of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ that isn’t nearly as dramatic as it should be in that moment due to Irvine’s atonal voice (which, if nothing else, is at least consistent with Brosnan’s performance). Most of these musical numbers are forgettable; the more memorable performances tend to be those that replay hits from the first film including ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Super Trouper’. And still, even at their most elaborate, the staging and choreography in these scenes is so conventional and uninspired they fall far short of the extravaganza that an ABBA musical ought to be. And then there’s Cher who enters the scene dressed all in white, radiating like a beacon of light just when you thought all hope was lost, to sing ‘Fernando’ with Andy Garcia. She barely adds anything to the story and the choreography is still too lacklustre and restrained for a star with her presence and energy, but damn did it feel good to listen to someone who could sing for a change.

Given how fantastically difficult it is for any film of any kind to be made, I don’t like accusing filmmakers of being lazy. Very few, if any, go into this industry because they want to make an easy buck. However if the effort that went into a film is not self-evident, it’s difficult for me to feel like any care or passion went into its making. This is what I was getting at when I said the film felt feckless and insincere. It feels like nobody, either in front or behind the camera, saw this movie as anything more than an excuse to spend a few weeks in sunny Greece and get a paycheque out of it. It feels like the filmmakers knew the movie would make money no matter what so they just didn’t care enough to try and turn it into something special; to cast actors who can sing and dance, to push the limits of what’s possible in the spectacles they can produce, to write a story that has something meaningful to say about love and heartbreak, youth and growth, joy and sadness, and the many other things ABBA used to sing about. That they had fun together is clear, but the fun isn’t infectious because there’s no personal or emotional investment in anything that’s happening on screen.

Based on the reception these films have received, it’s clear that my opinion is in the minority. It looks like many, many people are perfectly happy to watch A-List stars who can barely hold a tune belt out catchy pop songs in bell bottoms and jumpsuits and there’s not much I can really say to that. There’s for sure something to be said for joyful escapism, which isn’t something I would begrudge anybody in this day and age. What’s more, it seems that some of the things I vehemently dislike about Mamma Mia are amongst the very reasons why people find it so charming and lovable and there is no criticism I can make that will change how they see the film. These movies clearly do something that works for a large and diverse audience and if I don’t know what it is by this point I doubt I ever will. As someone who didn’t have any patience for the tangential subplots and musical scenes that detracted from the story, the blandly delivered songs and tediously repetitive format, and the derivative and empty plot that manages to go absolutely nowhere, this movie was exhausting. The only thing I took away from Mamma Mia was a headache.

The Post

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer


Although it tells the story of an event that occurred over four decades ago, The Post was made very much with today’s political climate in mind. In this day and age where the President of the United States has embarked on a campaign to undermine and antagonise the media and to render the very concept of ‘truth’ irrelevant, Spielberg set out to make this film in order to illustrate the vital role that a free press plays in a democratic society. Through this story, The Post champions journalistic integrity and free speech and demonstrates the necessity of a free press to hold those in public office accountable for their actions. Its weakness is that it can feel a little on-the-nose and self-important at times. The pressure and perhaps even obligation the crew felt to make a statement is very apparent, and as a result the movie often feels more like a commentary then it does a movie. It says the right things, but not with as much feeling as I would have liked.

The Post tells the story behind the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, a collection of documents detailing the government’s secret intention to enter what they knew would be an unwinnable war in Vietnam and the truth of the disastrous progress made in the years since. Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a disillusioned military analyst, leaks these documents to The New York Times who immediately begin reporting on the contents. When the courts rule that the Times must cease their reporting, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) of The Washington Post tracks down Ellsberg and gains access to the Papers. His editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) wants to run the story despite the court ruling, but the Post’s publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is worried that doing so will lead the company to ruin. It also doesn’t help that one of the figures revealed as one of the perpetrators of the great deception is her close friend Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), the Secretary of Defence under the Johnson administration. It is up to Kay to decide whether to back down and ensure the safety of her paper and employees, or to stand up for the freedom of the press and publish the government’s secrets.

For the roles of Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee, Spielberg could not have picked two more beloved stars if he tried. Both Streep and Hanks are paragons of liberal Hollywood and are the perfect pair to deliver an idealistic appeal for truth, duty, and liberty. Streep comes into her own as the beleaguered Kay, the publisher of the Post who struggles to reconcile her concern for her friends and her company with her responsibility to the readers of the paper and who faces pressure from the patriarchal board that doesn’t believe her capable of doing a man’s job. She brings a quiet dignity to the character as she tries to make her critical choice pragmatically, knowing full well what others expect from her and what the consequences will be should things go badly. As far as Bradlee is concerned there is no question about publishing and Hanks plays him with grit and gravity. He believes more strongly than anyone that what they do is vital to the country whatever the price, but the film grounds him just enough so that his ideals don’t come across as naiveté. He understands full well the ramifications of what they have discovered and it takes as much of a toll on him as it does anybody, but nonetheless it is still too important to be kept secret from the public.

The Post can be a chore to sit through at times. The film is sometimes so self-indulgent in the way that Aaron Sorkin can sometimes be, so certain in its own rightness and in the absolute truth of its rhetoric, that some scenes almost feel preachy and pretentious. However, whenever the movie feels like it will become too ostentatious, it is saved by the talent of the cast and crew. Spielberg has a talent for storytelling that few other directors possess and the fluidity and focus he displays here is on par with All the President’s Men and Spotlight. His expertise in creating engaging narratives comes through and he is able to make the story feel cinematic in a non-distracting way through subtle uses of the camera and sound. The long take during Streep and Hanks’ first scene together, for example, invites us to pay more attention to the dynamic between the two than a simple back-and-forth would have done. He is aided in his tight storytelling by a superb ensemble, including the likes of Carrie Coon, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, and Michael Stuhlbarg, who make every second count in their strong, concise performances.

I think it’s pretty fair to say that the attention The Post has received can be credited more to the timeliness of its message than to its individual merits, but that doesn’t mean the attention is undeserved. Although it’ll be interesting to see whether the film will remain relevant or even regarded ten years from now, that’s not for anybody to say today. We can only judge a film as it stands in the present and, at this time, The Post demands a place in the public conversation. The story it tells was made to reflect on this modern age of ‘Fake News’ and it is intended as a direct response to the attacks on the American news media over the past year. The fact that the story it tells reflects so strongly on the world as it is today nearly fifty years afters its occurrence shows that the questions it raises are far from settled. Personally I would have liked this film to speak of the world today with a little more force and bite and to have left a more lasting impression, but if The Post is fated to be remembered as a film of its moment, then it certainly chose the right moment.

★★★★

Florence Foster Jenkins

Cast: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Nina Arianda, Rebecca Ferguson

Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Nicholas Martin


Advertised as “the inspiring true story of the world’s worst singer”, Florence Foster Jenkins struck me as a thematically similar film to Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. This film took the life of a man who had garnered a reputation as the worst director of all time and found inspiration in it. Despite being utterly oblivious to his incapability as a filmmaker, the film showed that Ed had an intense passion and deep love for cinema that ended up proving irresistible to the audience. Like Burton, Frears finds inspiration in the story of an individual who found immense joy in doing what she loved, even if she wasn’t any good at it. However atonal or delusional this person could be, there is still something moving about her heartfelt sincerity and vigorous enthusiasm for music. This is the side of Florence that Frears wants us to see. He wanted to make a film in which we are laughing with Florence rather than at her.

Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is an heiress living in 1940s New York. Her greatest passion is music and her greatest dream is to be an opera singer. She performs concerts for her friends and colleagues and is uniformly received by them with praise and adoration. What she does not realise however is that they are all humouring her. Florence’s husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), himself an actor and fellow patron of the arts, sees to it that she never performs in front of an audience that he cannot control, thus allowing her to perform freely and openly without ever becoming aware of her terrible singing voice. We learn of this arrangement through the eyes of Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), a skilled but struggling pianist who gets paid handsomely for both his talent and discretion. As the United States is drawn further into the war at this time, Florence resolves to do her part by putting on a show for the troops at Carnegie Hall, a venue and audience that Bayfield desperately realises he cannot control.

In this day and age where TV shows like The X-Factor encourage us to mock and ridicule those without talent, I was astonished by what a touching film this proved to be. It makes no qualms about Florence’s singing abilities; she cannot hit a note to save her life. Her passion for music however is never in doubt. She owns a music club that showcases a variety of acts, she is massively generous when sponsoring musicians and she appreciates music on an intellectual and emotional level. It is after watching an opera performance where she is moved to tears that she realises she wants to express that passion by singing. Should it be a surprise then when Bayfield, who knows better than anyone else what singing means to her, utilises their wealth and influence to allow Florence her moment in the spotlight? The film takes its shots and has its fun with Florence’s tone-deaf screeching, but what is made plainly clear through it all is that she is singing her heart out with each melody and lyric.

After such a long and illustrious career it seems redundant to say this, but Meryl Streep is truly sublime in this film. Here she embodies an endearing but tragic figure who unwittingly became a subject of derision in pursuit of her dream. Streep delivers on both the laughs and tears and come awards season will surely receive her obligatory Oscar nomination for this performance. The real surprise for me was Hugh Grant who gave what is easily his best performance in years. At first we think we have this man figured out; he appears to be little more than an exploiter, allowing Florence her delusion so that he can enjoy her wealth while spending his nights with his mistress. Yet what becomes abundantly clear before long is that Bayfield both loves and adores Florence and is completely and utterly devoted to her. Although he may not desire her sexually, he proves time and time again that he truly does care for her and that he allows Florence her delusion because he wants her to be happy. It is an affectionate and sensitive performance that Grant delivers, one that I had never expected from him.

While Florence Foster Jenkins was a figure many dismissed as being laughable, spoiled and self-indulgent, Frears’ film is very much sympathetic to her cause. Although she may not possess the talent to voice her musical passion or the ability to hear her own shortcomings, the Florence in this film has a deep love for music that simply demands to be expressed. We might find amusement in her attempts at some of the most distinguished and difficult arias in the history of opera but, because we can feel her fervour so potently, we still root for her to do well. When she becomes the discreet subject of scorn and ridicule, we feel badly for her even though she is completely oblivious to such mockery. Florence Foster Jenkins is a film that is surprising in its earnest charm and heartfelt pathos, much like Florence herself.

★★★★

Suffragette

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, Ben Whishaw, Meryl Streep

Director: Sarah Gavron

Writer: Abi Morgan


In this day and age when voting in the UK, as well as every other free country in the world, is an assumed and inalienable right, it’s easy to forget how fiercely (and recently) some people had to fight to win that right, especially women. It hasn’t even been a hundred years since Britain was a country where women strove, fought, sacrificed and even died for the right to vote. Voting is a vitally important right and is quite possibly the single most fundamental thing we all do as citizens of democracy which is why the Women’s Suffrage Movement is such an important and powerful story. The resolve and vigour they displayed and the hardships they endured serve as an inspiring example to us all. Suffragette attempts to depict and realise this struggle in a dramatic form by focusing on the story of a single woman in the middle of it all.

Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) is a working class wife and mother who gets drawn into the Women’s Suffrage Movement almost by accident when her kind and caring nature compels her to stand up for her ill-treated co-worker Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff). Through Violet, herself a determined suffragette, Maud falls into the company of such women’s rights activists as Alice Haughton (Romola Garai) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter). As she learns more about this movement and comes to identify more with the cause, Maud becomes more and more active much to the detriment of her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) and the local police officer Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson). As the peaceful protests orchestrated by these women yield little results, the suffragette champion Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) entreats them all to resort to more extreme methods.

The decision to focus this story on a working class foot soldier caught up in the middle of this movement was a wise move on this film’s part. The sacrifices she makes and hardships she endures have greater resonances because she has more to lose than those that are better off. Maud depends on her work and her family to survive and would be destitute without either of them. As the struggle becomes greater and more unbearable, it becomes more difficult for Maud to decide whether this cause is bigger and more important than her own needs and those of her family. As well as the social and economic sufferings that Maud undergoes her perspective in the front lines of this movement provides a window into the other sufferings women endured. These women include the bold, working class Violet who finds herself powerless to oppose the sexual violence of her boss, the passionate, middle class Edith whose activism drives her towards extreme and unhealthy lengths, and the earnest, upper class Alice who despite her status feels powerless as she does not hold the right to control her own wealth and estates. The portrayal of the men also proves effective with Sonny serving as a working class man desperate to avoid any negative attention brought about by his wife and Steed as an ambivalent officer whose duty to the law trumps whatever personal feelings he might have.

Unfortunately there are a few issues I have with this film that I think prevent it from being the Selma of the women’s rights movement. One is that the film’s climax hinges on a real-life tragedy involving a character who doesn’t get nearly enough development. Maybe the lack of focus on this character was so she would stand as more of a symbol for all suffragettes by the film’s end, but I feel like the tragedy would have had a bigger impact on myself as well as the audience if we understood more about who this woman was, what she stood to lose and what the right to vote meant to her personally. Another issue I have, which admittedly is less to do with the film itself and more to do with its advertising, is Meryl Streep whose presence in the film is much smaller than the trailers or posters would have you believe. While she plays Emmeline Pankhurst well with all of the dignity and authority befitting her character, she’s only in the film for one scene. Her performance is essentially not so much a supporting role as it is a cameo. Even though I don’t have any particular problem with the performance itself or the character’s role in the overall story, I couldn’t help but feel misled.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement is an intense and harrowing tale and it takes a powerful film to depict it. Suffragette is not quite that film but it comes pretty damn close. The cruelties and oppression inflicted upon these women are depicted well and the entire cast succeeds admirably in portraying them. It’s only a want of a more refined focus and greater development that prevents this film from being the masterpiece it could’ve been. The film does end on an effective note as it lists the countries that now allow their women to vote and the years in which their suffrage was granted, some of those years being embarrassingly recent. Looking back it is astonishing how far our society has come in the last century in terms of women’s rights and feminism and, while there is still a way to go, this film serves as a reminder of the enduring bravery, strength and resolve of these women that lives on today and continues to inspire progress and change.

★★★★