Women Against the Stream

They all featured strong performances from female thesps, at the peak of their craft, in the central roles did these three movies. One would expect as much from Carey Mulligan, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence. Their vehicles weren’t exceptional I would have thought, but three of the above, nonetheless, garnered Oscar nominations. And all played women who fought against/defied expectations as to how their gender should conduct themselves in a male controlled environment.

In viewing order, ‘Suffragette’, ‘Carole’ and ‘Joy’ entertained, but none of the three will leave a lasting impression on this viewer as the very best offerings on the silver screen do. Good competent film-making was patently evident in the trio – but none were correctly deserving of being amongst those listed for the best movie ultimate gong in the eyes of those sitting in judgement.


In ‘Suffragette’, Mulligan’s character, Maud Adams, was a fictional battler who rose to some minor prominence in the movement and managed to be present at its historically defining moment. The setting was the immediate pre-war years of last century, just before an atrocious conflict stymied the momentum for female enfranchisement – a momentum that had been building over the previous decade. Maud was employed for peanuts as a washer-woman in an industrial laundry; she and her fellow workers considered fair game by the bosses for all sorts of exploitation, including sexual. As with Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy, Maud decides to find a way out from a hard scrabble existence. The suffrage leagues offered that for her, but in joining her local branch she loses the respect of her husband (Ben Whishaw), contact with her son (Adam Michael Dodd) and at times, her freedom – such as it was.

The Sarah Gauron directed movie conveyed well enough the view that these radical women constituted a threat to normal society and were treated in much the same way by the authorities as Islamic terrorists are today, especially once their bombing campaign commenced. The venerable Streep had a cameo as the venerable Pankhurst. Helena Bonham Carter was in fine fettle as a cause-supportive pharmacist – one who aspired to be a doctor, except that for women this was frowned on by the establishment. The devious patriarchal duplicity countering these ground-breaking female warriors for change was a police inspector by the name of Steed (Brendan Gleeson). His unrelenting persecution of these women became softened once he took a particular interest in Maud and for this film devotee, despite all of Mulligan’s considerable presence, the Irish actor stole the show.


The next attraction left me wondering how the Academy could choose between them – and on what basis. Was it screen time; age; or the fact the senior woman had won previously and therefore was deserving of the higher category? We have come to expect sterling performances from Blanchett, so it really was Mara who was the revelation. Yet she has been considered to be in the lesser role so therefore relegated to the supporting category. Couldn’t split them myself. Of course Aussie Cate was pitch perfect in every way in her cool, reserved portrayal of a mature married woman manipulating Mara’s obviously attracted, but somewhat naive, Therese, into a lesbian relationship. For Cate B this, to my mind, was no where near the searing calibre of what she turned in for Woody Allen to receive the Best Actress Oscar a few years back.

The Eisenhower fifties weren’t the best of times to be engaging in not so discreet same sex coupling and soon the film morphs into a ‘Thelma and Louise’ type affair as the blighted duo take to the road. They are pursued by an unscrupulous representative of the older woman’s spouse. Hubby is out to get back what was rightfully his. Rooney Mara is eye-opening as the younger of the pair, playing the would be lover with a mixture of Audrey Hepburn and a doe-eyed ingenue caught in the headlights. The film was beautifully lit to be of its era, but the narrative, despite its subject matter, was somewhat laboured in places. ‘Rolling Stone’ described it as ‘One of the year’s best film’s.’ It’s not the end of January yet but already more than one offering has easily outshone it to my mind. I suppose it is all a matter of taste, but this is far from a classic.


Joy Mangano invented a mop. The eponymous adaptation of her remarkable story is one of a woman whose revolutionary, but nonetheless humble, cleaning appliance became the fulcrum around which a business empire was built. She presented her domestic breakthrough to the world just when it was all turning better for the female in the workplace. But there was still a long way to go and Joy had many hoops to jump through to achieve her success. There’s much to enjoy in this ‘Erin Brokovich’-like saga – a small woman against a world of manipulating and grafting men. In the capable hands of David O Russell, ‘Joy’ never reaches the heights of his previous acclaimed productions, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘American Hustle’, but with her same foil in those two outings, Bradley Cooper shining, Lawrence reigned supreme. The whole shebang is not a bad way to spend an hour and then some in a darkened room. There’s the added bonus of Robert de Niro as the father and Isabella Rossalini as Joy’s reluctant financial backer. The movie features some interesting family dynamics as Joy’s plans threaten to spectacularly unravel, also threatening to fracture the already fragile relationships between her not always supportive closest relatives. All very enjoyable, but it does descend into cheesiness on occasions and some aspects of the story do stretch belief. Had I cared enough about it I would have checked out the story of the real Joy to discern how much was fact and how much fiction – but I didn’t.

Would it be unpatriotic of me to say that I will be quite pleased if our hope for best actress is bested on this occasion? Nobody doubts her talent any more, but really – apart from maybe the sex scene – I felt ‘Carole’ was no real stretch for our leading lady. I haven’t seen all contenders in action, but I have my fingers crossed in the unseen there is more worthiness from a nominee than the above actresses delivered in these reviewed titles. Hope I am not being too harsh on Cate.

‘Suffragette’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HdQ0iVrl2Y

‘Carole’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH3zcuRQXNo

‘Joy’ trailer = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ng7qMsbX3zM

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