Holding to the simple conversion narrative that has long given shape to political drama, Sarah Gavron's Suffragette devotes its running time to convincing us and its lead that yes, truly, women should have the right to vote.
Carey Mulligan plays our regular Joe, in this case a Maud. Like Tom Joad before her, she just wants to live and to work, in this case in Britain at the dawn of the twentieth century. She's a laundress, toiling away, scalded by steam, raising a son with a husband you know from his first scene doesn't think of her as a person. One evening, delivering a parcel for her boss, Maud sees a suffragette chuck a rock through a shop window and scream demands about extending the vote to women. This plays out with prickling unease: Gavron appreciates audiences' distaste for destruction, even in the name of this justest of causes.
It's inevitable, in the scenes that follow, that we will witness Maud's radicalization, and getting there is a predictable slog, despite Mulligan's skillful depiction of a woman discovering herself while bearing up through an ordeal. Maud's a fiction, so the specifics of her suffering are purely illustrative, stops on a tour, arranged for our benefit, of how the world used to punish women.
Abi Morgan's script emphasizes Maud's suffering at the expense of depicting the historical moment itself. Is it asking too much that a drama about the triumph of the suffrage movement trust us to get from the start that this was a cause worth fighting for?