Sarah Gavron's historical drama "Suffragette" had its world premiere at the Telluride film festival on Friday. That marked the only stateside showing for this film about the struggle of women to win the right to vote in early 20th century Britain before it opens the London filmfest on Oct. 7. This Focus Features release, which stars Carey Mulligan as a young firebrand, is due out here on Oct. 23.
While Mulligan's character, Maud Watts, is a composite of several women involved in the movement, others in the cast play key real-life figures. Meryl Streep makes the most of her few minutes on-screen as Emmeline Pankhurst, who inspired generations of women to fight for their right to vote. Could she reap her 20th Oscar nomination for such a short role? When it comes to Streep and the Oscars, anything is possible. Remember, Beatrice Straight ("Network") won the Supporting Actress award back in 1976 for a four-minute scene in which her character confronts her cheating husband (William Holden).
Helena Bonham Carter, who contended for Best Supporting Actress in 2010 for playing Queen Elizabeth in "The King's Speech," is the activist Edith Ellyn in "Suffragette." The actress is the great-granddaughter of H. H. Asquith, who was Prime Minister at the time depicted in this film.
The "Suffragette" screenplay is by Abi Morgan. She worked with Gavron on "Brick Lane," which screened at Telluride in 2007. Morgan also scripted two 2011 releases: "The Iron Lady," the biopic of poltiico Margaret Thatcher that finally won Streep her third Oscar and "Shame," which earned accolades for Mulligan, albeit no Oscar nomination. Morgan contended at BAFTAs for both those scripts. She won two of her three BAFTA (TV) bids for the 2008 telefilm "White Girl" and the 2004 miniseries "Sex Traffic." And she won the second of her two Emmy races for writing the miniseries "The Hour" in 2013.
That TV drama starred Romola Garai, who has a strong supporting role in "Suffragette." Also featured in the film is four-time BAFTA nominee Anne-Marie Duff as the co-worker who inspires Mulligan's character to take up the cause.
Period pieces like this one tend to dominate the design races at the Oscars. The costumes are by Jane Petrie ("'71," "Fish Tank"). And Alice Normington ("Brideshead Revisited") oversaw the production design. She won the first of her three BAFTA (TV) bids in 1998 for an adaptation of the Gothic novel "The Woman in White."
Eduard Grau ("Suite Francaise," "A Single Man") handled the lensing while the soaring score is by the prolific Alexandre Desplat who, after six losses, finally won an Oscar last year for "The Grand Budapest Hotel." He was also nominated last year for "The Imitation Game" and has "The Danish Girl" in contention this year as well.
Mulligan was nominated for Best Actress in 2009 for her breakthrough role in "An Education." Streep was also in that race — for an unlucky 13th time with "Julie & Julia" — which Sandra Bullock won for "The Blind Side." The other nominees were Helen Mirren ("The Last Station") and Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious").
For her performance in "Suffragette," Mulligan sits in third place on our Oscar prediction chart for Best Actress, behind two past category champs: Cate Blanchett ("Carol") and Jennifer Lawrence ("Joy"). Mulligan has the backing of one of our Oscar experts and three of our editors.
Critics singled out Mulligan in their rave reviews (see below). After reading these excerpts, be sure to make your Oscar predictions for Best Actress. Don't worry, you can keep changing them right up until nominations are announced on Jan. 14.
As our pal Sasha Stone (Awards Daily) observes, "With her half smile and her heavy-lidded, sad eyes, Mulligan’s Maud Watts is her best performance to date. She is the reason to see 'Suffragette,' and the thing that will make this film impossible to ignore come awards time. She carries it the way women used to back when they were given these kinds of opportunities."
And Stephen Farber (The Hollywood Reporter) notes, "Mulligan’s remarkably expressive face conveys the character’s profound but always credible journey from battered victim to articulate crusader. But the actress also captures the terrible human costs of any unyielding political battle."
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Photo: Carey Mulligan in "Suffragette." Credit: Focus Features