Perhaps the first Rape-and-Revenge costume drama, Lizzie is short, sad and eminently enjoyable. Sort of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford meets The Handmaiden, it presents a revised feminist account of the infamous case wherein in 1892 a sheltered middle-class woman was accused of beating her father and stepmother to death with an axe.
The film retells the event as if she were guilty but justified, conspiring with her only friend the maid to rid them both of her abusive father. Chloe Sévigny plays Lizzie and Kristen Stewart plays the maid Bridget Sullivan with a pretty Irish brogue. I don’t believe I have ever got through a review of a film featuring either woman without singling their performance out for particular praise and they are both just fantastic here, brittle, fragile, tender and cathartically gritty.
The film itself has a starched oppressiveness that pervades the build up and then relishes in the heady freshness it finds in the few moments of tenderness in the romance between Bridget and Lizzie, their lesbianism presented almost as the logical endpoint of a life that leaves them starved of affection and brutally exploited and cruelly wronged by man-kind.
The murder itself, like much of the rest of events is rendered with trace-like matter of factness and an almost swooning airiness, a blessed release as our antiheroines consummate their desire for liberation with iron against scalp. The reveal of the bloody aftermath yielded a hilarious “daaaamn giiirl!” from the two women sitting together on the row behind me. I think they loved it as much as I did.
It’s a bizarre, misshaped piece, as crooked, frosty and psychotic as its titular character, but it left me with a sadistic spring in my step.