In the last of my historical Halloween reviews, I’m looking at another version of the 19th century’s famous unsolved murder. Lizzie (2018) has been called a feminist take on Lizzie Borden’s story. I don’t know about that. This version packs all the popular theories about the Borden murders into one flick, from Lizzie being in an epileptic fugue state to the cousin John Morse being a suspect. The kitchen-sink approach is a bit haphazard, but at least the period costuming is correct.
Here are five points…
Chloë Sevigny Was the Force Behind Getting the Movie Made
She was inspired by spending a night at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, in the Bordens’ actual house. She told the LA Times:
“They spin the whole yarn for you and get you spooked out and they say like 50% of the guests leave in the middle of the night. Once I heard their pitch I said, ‘This is a movie and I want to make it.’”
Sevigny found a screenwriter, Bryce Kass, and together they first pitched a miniseries to HBO. But the channel backed out when Lifetime got the Christina Ricci series on-air first. Then Sevigny found director Craig William Macneill. She admits that the result isn’t perfectly her vision though:
“There was more to the relationships that made them more complicated, and also then informed why Lizzie [commits the murders]. Now it’s a little more vague than what Bryce and I intended originally to do.” (HuffPost, “Chloë Sevigny’s Lizzie Borden Biopic Isn’t The Ax Murderer Movie She Originally Imagined”)
Antique Clothing Is Used in the Film
Not only is Chloë Sevigny the star and a producer, but she wanted a say in the costuming too. She collects 19th-century clothing and wanted to use some of her pieces in the film. According to costume designer Natalie O’Brien in Fashionista, Sevigny, “had some really beautiful items that actually really fit in the era,” including a black polka-dot dress with pleats and lace.
Lizzie Bordon Wears a Pansy Pin
The costume designer noticed this floral brooch in many authentic photos of Borden, so she had it reproduced for the film. She and Chloë Sevigny created a backstory, suggesting that the pansy pin was an expensive gift from Lizzie’s father. Sevigny believes that pansies were Lizzie’s favorite flower.
The Movie Was Filmed in Georgia
Due to a tight budget and schedule, the location was Savannah, GA, nowhere near Fall River, Massachusetts, where Lizzie Borden lived all her life. And most of the shots are interior to not distract from this fact.
Speculation and Factual Errors
Of course, the romantic relationship between Lizzie and the maid Bridget is speculative. There’s no evidence for it, nor any way to disprove it. Likewise, no evidence pro or con that Bridget had any part in the murders. This movie also picks up on nude killing scene that The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975) indulged in.
But aside from the guesses, there are some just plain inaccurate bits about the murders. Such as Lizzie’s stepmother is killed in the wrong room! Abby Borden was killed and found dead the guest bedroom, where she had been cleaning it. But the film Lizzie has her killed and found in the bedroom she and her husband share.
What’s your favorite on-screen version of the Lizzie Borden story?