Picks and Pans Review: Iron Jawed Angels

updated 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

HBO (Sun., Feb. 15, 9:30 p.m. ET)

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Last time I saw a TV program on women's fight for the right to vote, it was Ken Burns's 1999 PBS documentary on Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Worthy, informative—but a little musty.

None of that staid history for director Katja von Garnier (Bandits), who brings a distractingly contemporary feeling to this story of militant suffragists Alice Paul (a persuasive Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O'Connor). The jumpy film editing, the rock beat of the background music and the characters' modern way of talking (expressions like "Do the math" and "Everything's a trade-off') make it hard to remember that we're back in the Woodrow Wilson Administration. What the film gains in youth appeal it loses in authenticity.

After wasting time on Paul's potential love interest (Patrick Dempsey), Angels becomes truly compelling when jailed suffragists stage a hunger strike and endure force feeding. But this late dramatic rally isn't enough to carry the day.


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