Let’s Talk about Suffragette
The second movie I saw with my wife this year, just two of us.
One of the most looked forward to films this year. One of the films that afterwards made me disappointed. I couldn’t express any emotion or sentiment watching the film that I had expected I could before watching it, although the production seemed try very hard to make it dramatic, emotional and sentimental. I found the film is unusually bland. But that it is bland doesn’t mean it is bad. At least to me it is good and appropriate in this sense. To tell a historic/heroic/heroine-ic (in this case) in a film, there are usually 2 ways of narration.
1. Telling a story from the perspective of the heros/leaders. Example, Martin Luther King, The Lady (Ang San Suu Ki). I didn’t see either. And I couldn’t recall I have seen many of this genre. I can’t tell the reason. The only reason I can barely give is that I have a personal and subtle distaste of the genre. So much that I couldn’t recall any scene of those films even I have seen them.
2. Telling a historic epoch using narrative of a group of small characters in the historic epoch, which is put into the background of the story. Example, 甜密密. Sorry I don’t know the English title of this Made in Hong Kong film. But it is archetypal in this genre- telling mass migration period of Hong Kong in late 1980s – 1990s, using a love story of two migrants from Guangzhou. I love this story so much.
Suffragette is a hybrid of the above two, telling an historic incident using the narrative of a group of peripheral participants instead of the core leaders. It is not even a pioneer of this genre. At least I know there is a very good film titled 十月圍城, sorry not not cognisant of its English title. Another film made in Hong Kong. And, I have to say, to compare the two,十月圍城 is better. More elaborate. More melodramatic. More focus on the GROUP of nameless heroes whose sacrifices and self-denials led to the greatest moment on China, the proclamation of the Republic of China and the end of Ching Dynasty. Suffragette, rather, focuses too much on rendering, cinematographically and script writingly, one nobody, Watt Mould (by Carey Mulligan), a heroine. Her conversion, her pre-plot, her struggles, her determination, her lost in direction and re-finding afterwards. At the expense of other unsung and un-named heroines, particularly so Emily, the martyr whose description I couldn’t imagine plainer.
I read some reviews revealing that the above description of Watt Mould, a fake character, was actually the personification / incarnation of what real Pankhurst had been through that made her what she done later. I couldn’t tell as I am really no expert of this part of history. But story-wise, it was not a wise tactic. Neither was the result very convincing to me. True, having a chance to speak in front of men in the Congress what pain and distraught an average 20th century woman was through, a little smell of what power can become of, might have gifted a hitherto powerless and prone-to-fate woman to resurrection that would later on trigger a tsunami to wipe the whole world. But a re-collection of Paedophile factory manager’s sexual assault and molesting with impunity is, to me, not a trigger powerful enough to convert a scarecrow mum of 6-year-old to an infantile so determined for the only course, Justice. And to me, justice itself is never a strong motive for changing anything. At least, I couldn’t see any change in the cases of Yewtree, Rotherham and Jimmy Savile. But still, I have to say I am no expert in such topic. What is trivial to me may be of consequence and scale to the society. I really couldn’t tell.
During the film, my wife by my left shew impatience. “When it is going to end" two times she asked. “I know it’s bland. It seems nothing special would happen does it. Just bomb bomb and bomb." was my response. Or I told myself. During the film, I kept asking myself: Were they doing things right, even if they fought for the right course? Was the final coming out of women’s suffrage really attributed to their civil disobedience? What I learnt in History class is that it was mainly the result of WWI that killed half the male population of Europe. The post-war economic rebuild was mainly taken up by women. So their power in society rose sharply not surprisingly though. To me, a historical epoch was more often attributed to a lot of co-incidences, that no one particular incident would have been thought of creating anything big in itself. Of most of those trivialities, we couldn’t even trace their true causes. However, they, for I don’t know why, happened in parallel at largely the same moment. Together they created an epoch. So I googled back home what happened in parallel in 1912. The founding of the Republic of China. The ending of the Qing Dynasty. The founding of African National Congress in South Africa, that 80 years later realised the dream of South Africans, a government represented by all colours. What a co-incidence. And honestly, in 1912, women in Britain, the then most advanced economy of the world, should have a life / fate much better than the other countries. So, it doesn’t surprise me a slice to know that they were the first who did the things they did.
After leaving the theater, my wife asked me why there was such a stupid director who made such film that would destine to trail. I told her it was supposed to be premiere in sync with the Women’s Day. Ironically, it was released in Hong Kong three months after. We can explain, perhaps. Hong Kong is one of the places that gender equality is at a very advanced stage. (I’m quite sure we are better than U.K. in this aspect). Women’s Rights is never a topic to resonate in Hong Kong.
P.s. Correction: 十月圍城 is the real title of the film, rather than 十面埋伏