“Women should not exercise judgment in political affairs.” Such a blatantly sexist statement is considered blasphemy to any rational person today which may be why the first full-length trailer for Suffragette opens with it: The idea that anyone would say such a thing just 100 years ago is a sign of how far society has come in treating women as equal to men. As feel-good messages go, this one casts a wide net.
Suffragette follows an English laundress (Carey Mulligan) who joins an activist group agitating for women’s right to vote. Meryl Streep hams it up as Emmeline Pankhurst, the real-life founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union, which used militant tactics to pressure Parliament to extend suffrage to women. (Helena Bonham Carter also stars, and her declaration, “It’s deeds, not words, that will get us the vote,” is a variation on what Pankhurst called her “permanent motto” in her memoir.) If Streep’s speech in the trailer reminds you of her performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, it might have to do with the fact that both screenplays were written by Abi Morgan.
Much of the dialogue shown in the trailer is heavy-handed, and the soundtrack’s sappy cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” is a sure sign that Suffragette aims to tug unrelentingly on viewers’ heartstrings. But if anyone is capable of injecting humanity into trite dialogue, it’s Carey Mulligan, who has an amazing ability to express strong, powerful emotions without looking like she’s acting. When Mulligan tells an interrogator, “We will win,” she’s not winking at the audience with a prediction that we know came true—she’s expressing the rage and disgust of a woman who’s sick of being oppressed. That raw honesty just may help to save the film from the smug didacticism of too many historical dramas. Suffragette opens in October.