“Suffragette”

Shame on any woman who does not make time to see “Suffragette”. Shame on anyone who misses a chance to view and acknowledge the sacrifices of the 19th- century -British working women~those who led the way in including half of the world in the political process. Two women, Director Sarah Gavon and writer Abi Morgan present a composite of fictional and historical characters that inspire and cause us pause. The narrative begins with actual excuses used by those attempting to keep women away from the ballot box ,like ” women are well-represented by their husbands, fathers and brothers”.

As if there was no need to worry,we are next shown the beautiful cinematography of Edu Grau with its hazed light and muted hues. Laundresses begin the wheels turning. Much will be “cleaned up”.

We are introduced to the fictional Maud Watts played magnificently by Carey Mullingan. We follow her awakening as a twenty-four-year -old wife and mother. Maude’s history comprises being born in Mr. Taylor’s laundry,  being strapped to her mother’s back  while her mother worked, and working in the steam herself beginning  at age seven. Now, as a trusted and responsible forewoman, she is to deliver a parcel of laundry. She finds herself in the middle of a protest. Rocks fly from baby carriages and windows are smashed. Shouts of ” make the law respectable,then I will respect the law”  ring  in Maude’s ears. Her husband Sonny uses the words “high-horse” to corral  the ideas of these women soldiers, who wish to be “law makers not law breakers”.

Maude sees her friend Violet’s (Anne-Marie Duff) adolescent daughter molested by Mr. Taylor. She says nothing to the girl’s mother believing in the  suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst’s “deeds not words”. Maude later takes the girl and places her in the home of a suffragette sympathizer to work in safe employment.

Helena Bonham Carter is brilliant as the fictional doctor, who resorts to bomb-making and violent disruption.Being imprisoned earns a chest medal and  Dr. Edith has many. Unlike Sonny who eventually throws Maude out and arranges for their son to be adopted and  for a neighbor to fix his own missing meals, Edith’s husband is supportive until he locks her in a closet to protect her from herself !

Natalie Press plays the real woman who gives up her life for the cause. Emily W. Davison will be ” googled” by  all viewers of this film. Brendan Gleeson plays the villain  who has covert cameras installed to spy on the “instigators” and has the hunger strikers force fed.

King George V ‘s era  is well- costumed and the dates given at that film’s end actually caused a few  film-goers to gasp. Women could vote in  1913 Norway, 1917 Russia, 1918 Britain,1920 United States, 1949 China and India,1953 Mexico,1971 Switzerland, 2015 Saudi Arabia etc…

 

“Far From The Madding Crowd”

Why do we pick the men we do? Women’s selections of male companions must have intrigued Thomas Hardy for as a Victorian novelist much of his work centers on the psychological dynamics of male/female relationships. In “Far From The Madding Crowd”, the independently spirited and capriciously frank Bathsheba Everdene is proposed to by three men: Gabriel Oaks (Matthias Schoenaerts), Mr. William Boldwood ( Michael Sheen),and Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge).

“Meet me in the hollow of the ferns”… may be my favorite line. Having seen the 1967 film version crafted with Terence Stamp, Alan Bates, Peter Finch, and Julie Christie, I was not expecting to love Carey Mulligan in the role of Bathsheba. But,I did. I liked this 2014 costume drama better than John Schlesinger’s. In fact,the entire story is told better under the direction of Thomas Vinterberg.Watch the u-tube trailers of the 1967 version and see Julie  Christie screaming her lines as she plays haughtiness over Mulligan’s willfulness.

The film opens in 1870 Dorset. We are in Hardy country~ southwestern England, Wessex. There are variegated coasts, rolling heaths,verdant forests and luxuriant farmlands. Yet, we begin in the dark and a door opens with light and Bathsheba. A voice-over tells us her circumstances.Bathsheba is too wild to be a governess. She shows us her resourcefulness ,and she knows her power. In the open,free countryside,her independence grows and becomes her sense of pride.

Gabriel, a neighbor and the sturdy oak, has 100 acres of land and 200 sheep. He gives Bathsheba a young lamb and proposes marriage stating that “I will always be there for you.” She rebuffs him with stating that she does not wish to be tamed or married. Gabriel’s  financial fortunes are reversed when his border- collie- in -training impetuously leads his herd over a cliff. All die in the early morning surf. Mr. Gabriel Oaks is hired by Bathsheba to shepherd her interests in barley and wheat grain. She states to her inherited staff that it is her intention to astonish them all.

Sergeant Francis Troy with his scarlet uniform, dark hair and brassy gleam seduces Bathsheba with his sword exercises of trust, thrust , and danger. He tells her she is beautiful and needs to be kissed.Gabriel warns her to stay clear of him and not to believe him :”I care for you too much to see you go to ruin because of him.” A storm ensues as a presage of doom. Bathsheba marries Troy as he gambles,withholds knowledge of a former lover,and drinks French brandy to excess. Poor choice that he is, it is  ironic that he tells her, “I have made a terrible mistake” when we all know that she has.

Mr. Boldwood’s character is changed the most from Hardy’s 1870 novel. His backstory has the country gossips report that he was jilted by a former lover and is a confirmed bachelor because of this. Bathsheba and her aide Liddie tease him with a valentine. Boldwood becomes obsessed with Bathsheba and interrupts a dinner celebration where Gabriel is being lauded for saving Bathsheba’s ewes from clover bloat. Boldwood sings a ballad with Bathsheba where the refrain is “red rose bush how my loved slighted me/I chose the willow tree”. Boldwood presses her for an answer to his marriage proposal. He seems anything but bold when he notes her lack of desire for him. The theater audience laughed at his next lines: “I don’t mind if you marry me for pity.” Boldwood seems weak,never threatening. This change provides for more cinematic tension and then shock as the story proceeds.

Hardy revels in the way people form ideas about a loved one. In delusion,delirium or detachment,human pride holds strong.Bathsheba’s “Gab,I have been a fool” holds even stronger.

Hardy,as a romantic realist and a Victorian used hands to picture the inner workings of the heart. This new film version of the novel understands Hardy’s prose.”Gabriel’s fingers alighted on the young woman’s wrist. It was beating with a throb of intensity. He had frequently felt the same hard,quick beat in the femoral artery of his lambs when overdriven…” Count how many times Bathsheba’s hands and wrists are framed by the camera~limp as she stumbles out if the fern forest,locked as she remains headstrong. Thighs are eschewed here,but passion does flame in nineteen century style.

Anyway, enjoy a great adaptation and even revisit the novel or compare the earlier film and post your own insights in the comment section below.