Telluride: Carey Mulligan Is the Main Asset in ‘Suffragette’

Suffragette” has two key assets in its awards push: Carey Mulligan and plenty of goodwill. Focus Features should push those elements to bring attention to the film.

The period drama is a rarity for major studios because it is directed, written and produced by women. In any year, that would be notable, but the combo gains importance this year, due to renewed scrutiny of the industry’s gender imbalance. Some people will love this movie, but even the naysayers can’t help rooting for it, given the subject matter and the filmmaking team.

The 1912-set “Suffragette” had its world premiere at the Herzog Theater in Telluride Friday night. In her introductory remarks, director Sarah Gavron said it has taken 100 years for the story to reach the screen, and she’d been wanting to do it for a decade. She introduced scripter Abi Morgan, producers Alison Owen and Faye Ward, and Meryl Streep. The actress got a whoop and a standing O from the audience, but didn’t speak; she will partake in a Q&A Saturday morning at the fest. Mulligan is about to give birth, and couldn’t attend the fest.

The film follows the radicalization of an overworked, unappreciated laundry worker (Mulligan), who’s a fictional composite of women working to gain the right to vote. Streep is onscreen for only a few minutes, as the real-life Emmeline Pankhurst. As Gavron said, they wanted “an iconic actress” to play the iconic Mrs. Pankhurst.

Mulligan (at right, in photo above) holds the film together, as she depicts the transformation from mousy young woman to firebrand. She is in nearly every scene, clearly conveying the character’s growing conviction, despite many setbacks. And she has three big “money” scenes that are emotional and heartfelt, which is always a good combination during an awards push.

The film has other strengths, including the production design by Alice Normington, costume design by Jane Petrie, and score by Alexandre Desplat.

Exiting the screening, one woman shouted out to no one in particular, “Can we get every woman in America to see this movie?” Others muttered that the film seemed slow (even though the running time is only 106 minutes). In its awards push for the film, Focus needs to target those optimists, and ignore that latter group.

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