The film then jumps back six months, and director Craig William Macneill plunges into a savage, feminist reinterpretation of the Borden murders – history's most notorious unproven case.
Masterfully played by Chloë Sevigny (whose fascination with Borden led her to commission the film's script), the eponymous protagonist is a headstrong, 32-year-old spinster and the youngest daughter of one of Massachusetts’s wealthiest families. She's trapped as her life is dictated by her abusive, power-hungry father (Jamey Sheridan). The arrival of new housemaid Bridget (Kristen Stewart) arouses Lizzie's interest, and the two strike up a friendship which, inevitably, leads to romance. As the plot develops and a web of patriarchal abuse is exposed, we’re left praying for both women’s freedom.
Kristen Stewart and Chloë Sevigny reconciliate attraction and survival in Lizzie
In a world where some men systematically harm and humiliate women, silencing them with force, the film’s climactic murders border on catharsis – for Lizzie, it's a liberation from years of abuse suffered at the hands of her father. By stripping naked to perform them, she sheds her skin and emerges free. The film isn't faultless: Lizzie's sister, Emma (Kim Dickens), isn't given enough depth, and the story sometimes drags. But focused direction, masterful cinematography and a fierce lead performance succeed in maintaining suffocating tension throughout.
Lizzie Borden was probably an axe murderer – but the film isn't really about that. Lizzie explores how we can use old stories to illuminate universal truths. Macneil plays on the audience's knowledge of the brutality of these murders to subvert expectations; the real horror here isn't the murders at all, it's the lengthy process of psychological torture inflicted upon vulnerable women in everyday life.
'You don't know the power his name holds,' whispers Bridget. In light of the current gender politics in the film industry, her words feel heavy. Does the patriarchal lens through which we view the women of history still serve us? In Lizzie, Macneil uses the Borden story as a vehicle to ask his audience to consider nuance, challenge assumptions and rethink the nursery rhyme tales we've been told for too long.
|What||Lizzie film review|
14 Dec 18 – 14 Dec 19, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|