Lizzie (3 stars)


Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart impress in a pertinent, Me Too infused take on the Lizzie Borden story

The true story of Lizzie Borden is best known to British audiences through the skipping-rope rhyme which begins, 'Lizzie Borden took an axe…' Writers as diverse as Ed McBain and Angela Carter have attempted to read between the lines of the highly-publicised court case in the aftermath of the killings. Working from a script by Bryce Kass, director Craig William Macneill views lurid events through the prism of the #MeToo movement, aided by a strong sense of visual austerity and two ideally cast leads.

First encountered in 1892, Borden (Chloë Sevigny) is a young woman restricted by the mores of her time; her scrimping father Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) uses her illness as a pretext to tie her to the binding apron strings of her rough-hewn household. The Borden family welcome a new Irish maid into their home, but Bridget (Kristen Stewart) becomes a dangerously transformative influence on Lizzie, developing an interest in literacy, and taking tentative steps towards an illicit affair that threatens the patriarchy's cruel rule.

Sevigny and Stewart bring contrasting, intertwining approaches to their roles: Sevigny is glacial and dialed back, while Stewart slow-burns with love that dared not speak its name in the repressive 19th century. The considerable time devoted to depicting their blossoming but constantly constrained relationship is the point; the final violent explosion of rage is held back until a full and bloody depiction in the film's finale. Some of the dialogue may seem on the nose in terms of sexual politics, but the filmmakers have every right to shape and revise events to their purpose.

What's argued by Macneill's uneven but well-acted and pertinent drama is that society was firmly rigged in favour of men, and that systematic abuse resulted. Lizzie Borden's violence is depicted as a feminist reaction to male oppression; a relevant thesis that's baldly, but plausibly expressed here.

Selected release from Fri 14 Dec.


  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 46min
  • Directed by: Craig William Macneill
  • Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chloë Sevigny, Fiona Shaw, Jamey Sheridan
  • UK release: 14 December 2018

Lizzie Borden (Sevigny) lives with her scrimping father (Sheridan) in 1890s Massachusetts, but then their new maid Bridget (Stewart) has a transforming influence on her. Well-cast, sometimes uneven but pertinent retelling of the Borden case for our times, with Sevigny and Stewart contrasting but very good.