Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Skipping-rope rhyme of uncertain origin
On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden (Jamey Sheriden) and his second wife Abby (Fiona Shaw) were found dead. They were axed in two separate rooms of their house in Fall river, Massachusetts, and it seems, at two separate times. Around the house but outside, according to their testimonies, were Andrew’s youngest daughter, Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny), and the maid Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart). Later on, Lizzie Borden was arrested and accused. There was a trial, but she was found not guilty. These are the facts and part of the Lizzie Borden legend. In the 125 years since the murders there has been many theories on who killed the Bordens, or, if it was Lizzie, how she did it and why. In the film’s opening scene Lizzie finds her father dead, then we flashback 6 month before the murder. Every theories are explored: Lizzie and her elder sister Emma (Kim Dickens) had a terrible relationship with their father and hated Abby, their stepmother, the rumor that Lizzie was epileptic, another rumor was that she was a lesbian and that she and Bridget were lovers, uncle John Morse (a particularly snake-like Denis O’Hare), who was visiting the Bordens at the time, was considered a suspect by police, and other facts that were made up for the sake the film, as some real facts are conveniently tossed aside. All those things are piled up and hammered with very little subtlety as Lizzie becomes a “whowilldoit” rather than a “whodoneit”. There is enough here for several Lizzie Borden movies. We understand that Lizzie, an adult of 32 years old, was rather repressed by her parents as was the custom in 1892. Understandably Lizzie Borden rebelled against that repression. Too bad that such talented actresses like Sevigny (one of the producers) and Stewart don’t have a better screenplay to work with.
You should know… Despite what the rhyme says, Abby Borden was hit by the axe 19 times and Andrew 11 times.
Good read… In his 1984 novel Lizzie, Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain) mixes fiction and facts by taking the real court transcripts and Lizzie’s trip to Europe, of which we know next to nothing about, and inventing what happened there.
Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from October 19 – 28
Craig William Macneill