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article imageReview: ‘Lizzie’ describes a dark and scandalous motive for murder Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 30, 2018 in Entertainment
‘Lizzie’ is the solemn tale of the century-old Borden murders, which introduces a less popular theory while unfolding with a never-ending dark cloud over everyone’s head.
Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks;
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
This became a popular skipping-rope rhyme after the infamous slayings in 1892, though its source isn’t exactly known. It’s also not really accurate since her stepmother suffered 18 blows and her father 11, but it speaks to the brutality of the crime and public opinion, which was convinced of her guilt even if the jury was not. In spite of being acquitted, Borden and the unsolved murders have remained a topic of American mythology and speculation of who was responsible has continued for more than 125 years, immortalized in books, films and theatrical productions. The latest to explore this notorious crime is Lizzie.
Lizzie Borden (Chloë Sevigny) was an unmarried woman in her 30s who enjoyed socializing and going to the theatre, generally unaccompanied. Her father, Andrew Borden (Jamey Sheridan), was unhappy with her behaviour, but Lizzie never cared for his opinion and found more than one way to rebel against his rules. In response, Andrew decides to appoint Lizzie’s uncle (Denis O'Hare) as her custodian in the event of his death. In the meantime, Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart) emigrated from Ireland to America and was the family’s live-in maid — a situation Andrew took advantage of via nightly intrusions while Lizzie’s stepmother, Abby (Fiona Shaw), slept. However, Lizzie and Bridget formed a more consensual relationship in secret… until they were discovered. Both Andrew and Abby were killed shortly after.
This theory that relates Lizzie’s motives to her homosexuality was proposed by mystery author Ed McBain in his 1984 novel, also titled Lizzie. In this film, Andrew is shown to be oppressive and perverse. Lizzie protests her father’s conduct, but her actions never go unpunished. On the other hand, Bridget is forced to submit and remain silent for fear of losing her job and being blacklisted by Lizzie’s powerful father. They connect through their mutual dislike for Andrew and their shared feeling of helplessness, but there’s also a level of joy that emerges from their clandestine bond. While Andrew learns of their tryst and takes steps to terminate it, it’s only one of many reasons that contribute to Lizzie’s desire to murder him. Besides, she’s never liked her stepmother, resenting her for trying to take the place of her deceased mother.
The timeline is a bit of a jumble as it goes between Lizzie’s trial and the events in the weeks/months leading up to the slaughter. There’s no way to track the amount of time that passes, but the mounting tension in the house and Lizzie’s increasing desperation is tangible. The overall tone of the film is very sullen, which means even the romantic element of the movie is still rather sombre. Stewart is comfortable in the part as she demonstrated she could play a brooding young woman entwined with a forbidden love in her introductory role. Sevigny is constantly on edge and often borderline frantic, which makes her choice to kill believable but her character difficult to empathize with.
This is an interesting theory about the infamous murders, though it does also assume Lizzie was freed because she had an alibi rather than because the all-male jury couldn’t believe a woman was capable of such violence. This combined with the moroseness of the picture makes it a satisfactory narrative but not an entertaining watch.
Director: Craig William Macneill
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chloë Sevigny and Denis O'Hare
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