IN HER WORDS: STREEP TALKS SUFFRAGETTE
Meryl Streep shows up for only two minutes in Suffragette as activist Emmeline Pankhurst, giving a fiery pep talk to Englishwomen demanding the right to vote.
The three-time Oscar winner spoke longer at the Telluride Film Festival in September, where Suffragette had its world premiere. Streep joined director Sarah Gavron and others on an open-air panel discussing the responsibilities of portraying historical figures and events in movies.
Streep made it clear that a character's basis in reality or fantasy makes no difference in her acting approach.
"Every woman's experience I have played is important to me," Streep said. "I try in as much as I can — except maybe in Death Becomes Her — to invest thoroughly, as if it's a real person. But that movie turns out to be almost a documentary of the state of plastic surgery in Los Angeles."
Pankhurst is one of several real-life characters depicted in Suffragette, although the central role of budding anarchist Maud Watts, played by Carey Mulligan, is a composite of several women's stories researched by screenwriter Abi Morgan. Mulligan skipped Telluride, staying in England with musician husband Marcus Mumford, awaiting their daughter's birth.
"(Morgan) was liberated by pulling from different, ordinary people and creating this complex character who could have an arc that was truthful," Gavron said. "There are the facts, and then, there is the truth. There was something emotionally truthful about Maud. ... She allowed us to look at history through a perspective that you don't normally have."
Streep emphasized that, although set in 1912 London, Suffragette presents a timeless message.
"Suffragette is a modern story, really," she said. "It's the story of a lot of women right now, whether they suffer deep, hard deprivations, or whether it's that niggling 30 percent (pay difference) that you can't get in your job. Sarah said they wouldn't have made this movie five years ago, and I think it's actually true.
"This movie is meeting its moment."
INDIE FLICKS: Suffragette
Suffragette (PG-13) gives Carey Mulligan her second award-worthy role of 2015 as Maud Watts, newcomer to an anarchic movement in England to give women the right to vote. This one is as period gritty as Far from the Madding Crowd was delicate, in a generation-later era.
Unlike her previous role, Maud suffers in the period's sexist culture, derided and demeaned for her gender, working for pennies in a sweatshop laundry then handing it over to her husband. She has no choice in matters, a situation that director Sarah Gavron hammers repeatedly as Maud evolves from voiceless victim to what can be accurately termed a terrorist. Maud's arc isn't entirely convincing, but her cause is just.
Maud is a composite character, offering Mulligan a wide range to play well, from sorrow to rage. Too wide, perhaps, as Maud's burdens rise to near overkill, including banishment by her shamed husband (Spectre's Ben Whishaw) and the adoption of their son without her consent. Helena Bonham Carter adds backbone as a bombmaking pharmacist inspiring protesters, while Meryl Streep's appearance as real-life suffrage activist Emmeline Pankhurst is a glorified cameo, trilling justifiable treason in a dignified English accent.
Director Gavron brings a sense of urgency to oppression and protests with handheld camera work, at times too tight for action clarity. The Dickensian sets and costume designs are impeccable, including some great hats.
Suffragette is solid if unspectacular historical filmmaking, never hysterical about its subject. B (Opens Friday at Tampa Theatre.)
Also opening is select theaters is My All-American (PG), a biography of University of Texas safety Freddie Steinmark (American Horror Story's Finn Wittrock). Steinmark, a member of the Longhorns' 1969 national championship team, was diagnosed with bone cancer and inspired a nation to fight the disease.
My All-American isn't being reviewed, but its screenplay comes from Angelo Pizzo, who also wrote Hoosiers and Rudy, giving moviegoers an idea of the jock uplift to expect.
ALSO OPENING: Love the Coopers
Remember that suspiciously star-studded 2013 family gathering comedy The Big Wedding? Me, neither. Not even Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Robin Williams and Diane Keaton made that one worth checking out.
The same formula appears to be at work in Love the Coopers (PG-13), with Keaton making an encore as the flustered mother. Instead of a wedding, it's Christmas Eve bringing everyone and their baggage together, for crises and heartwarming solutions. This time, the other slumming Oscar winners are Alan Arkin and Marisa Tomei, with check-cashers John Goodman, Ed Helms, Olivia Wilde, Anthony Mackie and Amanda Seyfried to boot.
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 The Peanuts Movie: Charles M. Schulz's beloved gang makes an overdue return to the screen.
2 Suffragette: Carey Mulligan sacrifices all to gain Englishwomen the right to vote.
3 Sicario: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro battle a Mexican drug cartel.
4 The Martian: Matt Damon survives outer space through science.
5 Bridge of Spies: Tom Hanks stars in this Cold War drama.
Dates subject to change.
Nov. 20: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2; Spotlight; The Night Before; Secret in Their Eyes; By the Sea
Nov. 25: Creed; Victor Frankenstein; The Good Dinosaur; Brooklyn
Dec. 4: Krampus; Christmas Eve
Dec. 11: In the Heart of the Sea
Dec. 18: Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens; Sisters
Dec. 23: The Big Short; Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
Dec. 25: Joy; The Hateful Eight; The Revenant; Concussion; Daddy's Home; Point Break
Dec. 30: Anomalisa