Updated: Oct 23, 2020
Streaming Service: Shudder
Trigger warning: Animal death – Lizzie’s pet pigeons Rape – Mr. Borden coercing Bridget (not explicit)
The true story of Lizzie Borden has captured the imagination of people ever since the murderers happened. Though no one knows exactly what happened that day, most believe that Lizzie is the one who killed her father and stepmother with a hatchet. Her status in her community and the belief by her all-male jury that a woman of her station would never do such a terrible crime are the only reason she probably didn’t hang for their murders.
The film Lizzie takes a lot of the speculation that has occurred over the years to weave a suffocating tale of oppression. The film leans heavily into the subjugation of women living in that time period. Lizzie is expertly portrayed Chloë Sevigny as a woman who is suffering from epilepsy and societal rules. Lizzie and her sister are spinsters and at the mercy of their father. They cannot make decisions for themselves and are basically trapped within his household. Lizzie, who is headstrong, does not take kindly to his rule. To make matters more complicated, she realizes that her and her sister’s inheritance is in jeopardy because of the meddling of their stepmother’s brother.
Kristin Stewart portrays the Borden’s maid Bridget Sullivan, whom they called Maggie. Mr. Borden takes advantage of the young maid and she suffers at his hands because she doesn’t have any other choice. She’s dependent on him for her employment.
Though there has been theories that Bridget and Lizzie were involved in a lesbian affair, there’s really no proof of that but this film uses that speculation for pivotal plot point. The two women definitely have chemistry and a scene of them almost kissing is probably more romantic and tension filled than most cinematic sex scenes. The real Lizzie Borden never did marry and lived alone. The real Bridget did eventually get married to a man and lived the rest of her life in Montana. The fact that she married a man has been used to debunk the ideas she had an affair with Lizzie, but this is ignoring the possibility that she was bisexual. The idea of Lizzie having a tragic love affair, though heartbreaking, pales in the light of just how much she was at the mercy of the men in her life.
The acting in the film is excellent. All the characters have flaws to a certain degree. You grasp the driving force behind the characters. Lizzie’s growing frustration with her circumstances and her anger at her father’s behavior rings true. Because Lizzie is such a cold and emotionally controlled person most the time, when she finally lets loose it’s terrifying. The brutality of the murderers comes across as being born out of Lizzie’s rage.
Because we will never know what really happened that day, films, television shows, books, and other media will continue to speculate about why Lizzie killed her family. This film does a good job of creating a coherent story line as to why she may have done it and it’s definitely worth watching.