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article imageReview: ‘The Keeping Room’ finds its strength in womanhood Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 15, 2014 in Entertainment
‘The Keeping Room’ features a trio of resilient women who persevere against marauding soldiers during this Civil War drama.
Movies set during the war, particularly pre-WWII, rarely give very much attention to the women unless they’re in a romantic relationship with a soldier. Their experiences while all the men are off fighting has been largely ignored, though they did encounter many hardships and threats. The Keeping Room focuses on three women left to attend to their homestead during the American Civil War.
Southern sisters, Augusta (Brit Marling) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld), and their female slave, Mad (Muna Otaru), were left alone when all the men, including their father, brother and Mad's lover, joined the war. Augusta and Mad endure the hardship of working the land themselves and making sure there's food on the table every night, while Louise chooses to embrace the rebellious teenager within. However, when a couple of Yankee soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) descend upon their home, they band together to defend their land and virtue.
The opening minutes set the stage very well. A slave comes across a terrible scene involving the two Yankees that demonstrate their cruelty and lust for blood. Meanwhile, the three women are shown going about their daily chores whilst staying acutely aware of their surroundings and any changes in their environment. Augusta and Mad know better than to let their guard down during these treacherous times.
Even though the events at the beginning of the movie are intense, it only increases as the story continues. As audiences get to know the women better, they also understand trouble is growing closer. The need for Augusta to ride alone into town puts the wheels in motion. Her beauty draws unwanted attention before she even realizes it. Once the soldier catches sight of her, he must have her by any means necessary.
The women take precautions to protect themselves, but it's their will to survive that has the most impact. The barricaded room is about being smart, not scared. They do not show weakness when the fight is brought to their door. They gather weapons and prepare to stand their ground. The men are aware of the advantage they hold, but that confidence becomes their enemy.
There are two moments near the end of the film that stand out. One occurs when Mad attempts to console Louise by sharing her own traumatic experience. The comparison she makes of their situations is stirring. The second is a tragic consequence of the war that is foreseeable but still shocking.
Hatched from a dinner party story, this is a great narrative that focuses on unsung heroes in their own right.
The Keeping Room screened in the Special Presentations programme at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
Director: Daniel Barber
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Sam Worthington and Brit Marling
More about Review, The Keeping Room, TIFF 2014, Brit Marling, Sam worthington
 
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