True crime is big business at the moment. Documentaries like Making a Murderer, Casting Jonbenet and The Staircase and podcasts like Sword and Scale, Generation Why and Casefile generate large audiences and discussion. There are though certain crimes that transcend the regular true crime audience and pass into the wider pop culture consciousness. The murder of Abby and Andrew Borden, allegedly by Andrew’s daughter Lizzie, is one of those crimes. Since her trial ended in acquittal in 1892 there have been books – fiction and non-fiction – and films speculating on various ways the crimes might have occurred.
This latest telling of the story seems to unofficially draw inspiration from author Ed McBain’s speculation that Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) had a relationship with the family’s housekeeper Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), but doesn’t suggest that this was the motive for the murder.
I saw promise in director Craig William Macneill’s first feature, The
For the most part, Lizzie is more restrained costume drama than blood and guts true crime tale. The performances and Macneill’s camera both reflect that. Jamey Sheridan and Fiona Shaw both do precise work as Andrew and Abby Borden, with Shaw especially effective in a venomous late scene with Sevigny. Macneill shoots with a composed style and slow pace which is a highly effective choice when the murder sequences do finally arrive, providing an effective contrast to the violence. Sadly, all this restraint does mean that the film feels long at 105 minutes, often moving at a snail’s pace, which means that much of the expected tension is leached out of the film’s first two acts.
I often found myself thinking of Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie while watching this film. That too has an uneducated maid working in the home of a rich family and making an inappropriate ‘friendship’ with a woman who helps her learn to read, among other similarities. Chabrol’s film, however, has both a vein of social satire and sense of a mischief that I sometimes found myself longing for here. Lizzie is by no means a bad film, but it’s all just a bit polite for my liking.
Lizzie screens in LFF’s Dare programme on Thursday 11th, Saturday 13th and Saturday 20th of October