So, Bordenphiles everywhere are probably burning up their keyboards tonight writing reviews of the much-hyped Lifetime movie, Lizzie Borden Took an Axe. Before the verdict is in, why indeed was this production rushed to the screen? Clearly with a gross lack of fact checking on the case, the culture and mannerisms of the times, set dressing and costume, this was a low-budget rush job to get something in the can to beat out the anticipated Playtone-Tom Hanks production starring Chloe Sevigny. Ms. Sevigny, a visitor to Fall River and a case enthusiast would have done the role justice.
The never-ending inaccuracies, too numerous to mention in full, indicate a total laziness on the part of the scriptwriters to even consult Google for the most basic of facts on the case. In fact, other than the undeniable truth that two people were murdered in Fall River, most probably with a hatchet, there is not much else this version of the story got right.
Filmed in Halifax, presumably for the vintage atmosphere and possibly budget constraints, the film begins with a house which looks nothing like the Borden house, a city which looks nothing like a city and most certainly nothing like Fall River. There is no flavor of the mills, Main Street, the Hill section or the river. At least they did not attempt the distinctive Fall River accent.
Even those not in the know about speech patterns, costume, mannerisms and culture of 1892 will instantly sense something is quite wrong on all these counts. For example, a woman would never have appeared on the street without a hat, and most assuredly not at an inquest. When making a period piece, attention to the smallest detail is essential lest the entire screen illusion of the event be destroyed. And speaking of destroyed- what did you think of Lizzie’s playlist?
• The Black Keys, “Psychotic Girl”
• Ian Clement, “The Hammer & the Nail”
• Sons of Jezebel, “Whoo Boy”
• Kreeps, “Pennsylvania Boarded House Blues”
• Paul Otten, “Dangerous Mind” *
• The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer, “Are You Listening Lord,” “Shake It”
• Pow Wow, “All In” *
• Lady of the Sunshine, “White Rose Parade”
• Cavendish Music Library, “Razzamatazz Man”
It is always a great risk to incorporate contemporary music in a period piece. The end result may be campy or it may turn out to be another Marie Antoinette film disaster of recent years. In this case, the spectacle of Christina Ricci striding out defiantly to a forbidden party in what might be construed as a “Soiled Dove”, cleavage-baring bodice to the strains of “Whoo Boy” is laughable. At the party Lizzie meets Nance O’Neil who makes her entrance into Lizzie’s life at least 12 years too early. Understandably, in a two hour film, many factual sequences must be collapsed or even omitted in the interest of time. What is unforgiveable is that in this production, they managed to find precious minutes for total fabrications which never occurred, or did not serve the history timeline in the least, while leaving out vital information and actions and incidents crucial to the case. It’s almost as if the script writer had a large handful of facts about the case scribbled on post-it notes, threw them all up in the air, and whatever order they landed in was the order in which they appear, sometimes tarted up or altered at will and with zero relationship to the actual timeline of the true events.
As in the Elizabeth Montgomery 1975 film, (a vastly superior effort), Lizzie’s Uncle John Morse was left out as well as Mrs. Churchill, the very important star attorney and former Massachusetts Governor Robinson, Mr. Moody for the Prosecution, and others. Andrew Jennings was the sole embodiment of Lizzie’s defense. With the actual Borden trial transcript available, the screen writer for this sad attempt himself should have been hanged for Laziness in the First Degree. Kudos for getting the famous line uttered by Lizzie in response to whether she and her mother were cordial, “It all depends on your idea of cordiality”.
Also disappointing was the performance of Christina Ricci, a talented young actress who turned in a one-note song as Lizzie. The real Lizzie Borden was a multi-faceted and subtle person; refined, dignified, meticulous, affectionate to friends and also stubborn, having feelings of inferiority, and a full spectrum of traits as most human beings possess. Ricci has made her name as a quirky, Goth-Girl, dark performer and is good at it. She is better than the lines given her in this production. Ricci’s distracted, crazy poses, bulging eyes, and defiant little outbursts did not make for much depth-of character.
So many disappointments for even the most casual Lizziephile: Lizzie standing over a cauldron stirring up that infamous dress, outside, while Emma shrieked and Alice Russell peered out a second storey window, City Marshal Hilliard played as a fool, Andrew Borden with dark hair and a mustache, Lizzie racing around in her underwear with hair streaming wantonly down her back, the missing scene where neighbor Addie Churchill spies the corpse of Abby Borden under the bed, Dr. Bowen popping out of his house like a jack-in-the-box when Bridget hammers on the door. All so incorrect. All so maddening. When will anyone recognize that this story deserves to be told as it actually happened? If Cameron could not get it right with his Titanic epic, as pretty as it was to look at- then there is little hope the real, and truly fascinating story of the Borden case will ever see the light of day. Another golden opportunity missed.
Two thumbs way down. Not released tonight, it escaped. Airing again on Sunday. Give it a miss.