Freaky Friday: Five Things About Lizzie (2018)


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

Lizzie (2018)

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”)

Lizzie (2018)


Antique Clothing Is Used in the Film

Lizzie (2018)

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 (2018)


Lizzie Bordon Wears a Pansy Pin

Lizzie (2018)

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.

1890, Lizzie Borden

The real Lizzie Borden, circa 1890. Note pansy pin at neck.

Lizzie (2018)


The Movie Was Filmed in Georgia

Lizzie (2018)

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.

Lizzie (2018)


Speculation and Factual Errors

Lizzie (2018)

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.

Lizzie (2018) Lizzie (2018)

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?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Facebook Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

22 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    I have seen only two: the Liz Montgomery and the Christina Ricci, both of which have their merits and their drawbacks. I give the edge to the Ricci for content, but take point off for the completely fabricated presence of Pinkerton agent Siringa.

  2. Terry Towels

    Long ago, I read that Lizzie’s hair wasn’t wet. If she’d done it, there would have been blood all over her hair. Long hair, and in those days, it took about a day to dry. The way events happened, her hair wouldn’t have had time to dry. So.

    Has anyone else read that?

    • Roxana

      No, but it’s a legitimate point. Frankly this case is the damnedest thing. How could anybody but Lizzie have done it? Yet how did she manage it?

    • Rosemary

      She may have covered her hair, knowing she wouldn’t have time to wash it should it get blood on (which is extremely likely) she’s really the only one in my mind who could have done it.

      • Anna

        That’s a really good theory, and it may well be what happened, but we still don’t know for sure. Lizzie did seem to have the most motive, with the threat of being cut out of her father’s will, but we still can’t be 100% certain that it was only Lizzie. She may have had help. She does seem like the only possible culprit, sure, but maybe she did it without getting her hands dirty. Either way, she was most likely the one orchestrating it.

  3. Saraquill

    I’d love to see a full body picture of that spotted dress. I sometimes joke that I have a Yayoi Kusama level fondness for polka dots.

  4. Roxana

    Lizzie was quite the fashionista herself. Her father gave her a large dress allowance and a trip to Europe, which he could totally afford. Trying to keep Lizzie happy seems to have been a preoccupation of his. What he wouldn’t do was move to a better house and entertain Fall River society which is what Lizzie really wanted.

    • MoHub

      As I recall, Lizzie’s father bought off a shopkeeper after he caught Lizzie shoplifting in his store in order to keep his daughter from being arrested.

      • Roxana

        Lizzie was a girl with problems. Her family seems to have been frightened of what she might do next. Author Victoria Lincoln, also of Fall River, originated the petit mal theory. She may have been right that Lizzie was suffering from some kind of disorder. She seems to have been generally regarded as peculiar.
        I sometimes wonder if Lizzie herself wasn’t sure if she’d done it or not.

      • Violet

        It was well known around Fall River, that if Lizzie stole something, write it down, and he would pay for it. He was always keen to make sure, that not even the barest hint of scandal, was tied to him.

    • Violet

      Andrew was from old Yankee stock, and living on “the Hill was a waste of money as far as he was concerned, I doubt very much his purchase of the 2nd street house was given much thought toward his growing daughters, he no doubt purchased the house, because he considered it practical, and it was close to his business interests. And completely unrelated, Lizzie’s favorite flowers were pansies, and Chloe actually resembles the historical Lizzie

  5. Rebecca

    In the traditional language of flowers, pansy means “hearts ease” – tangential but interesting?

  6. Lisa

    Of all the movie crews that came through Savannah the past 5 years I lived there, this was everyone’s favorite. So nice and so many locals got roles.

  7. Andrew Schroeder

    I’m not really a fan of this trend of ascribing queer identities to dead historical figures who can’t verify the veracity of that choice. And in this case, Lizzie had motive and opportunity enough without throwing in a gay affair with the Irish maid (whom all evidence shows Lizzie treated with little more than contempt – she didn’t even call her by her correct name most of the time).

    • Roxana

      I agree with you about the sometimes downright random assertion of queer tendencies to historical figures. However in fairness to the producers it’s even suggested by others that Bridget lied for Lizzie. And the latter did have a friendship with an actress that raised eyebrows.

    • Milla

      But what would verify a queer identity, sans a seance? (fair disclosure: I’m queer) Queerness often wasn’t recorded or talked about in the same way, and there’s a long history of scholars ignoring evidence of queerness (see Bryon, Emily Dickinson, etc., especially in figures who we would call bi/pansexual today). I don’t see any harm in it—it’s hardly besmirching their reputation. Besides, plenty of films have invented straight relationships and those get far fewer complaints.

      • Roxana

        I think the real problem is when there actually isn’t any evidence, as in this case. Bridget may have lied for ‘Miss Lizzie’ for all kinds of reasons. And Lizzie’s later friendship witht actress was far from establishing her preferences

        • Kat

          But is there evidence she was straight? No. Yet people are usually okay with straight depictions of historical figures even when their actual sexuality isn’t known at all. I hardly think that’s fair. There are so little period films with queer characters, just let us have this one. Especially since there are no records of what her actual sexuality was so this interpretation is as good as any.

          • Milla

            Agreed! No one is being damaged by a queer imagining of Lizzie Borden’s life, least of all her (she already has a reputation for being a murder). And I’d argue that most depictions of real people are essentially fiction, anyway, especially one that explores an event that’s not fully understood.

            It’s one thing to produce a biopic of someone who’s alive and well and imagine their sexuality differently than reality, or to do so for someone who we have well-documented evidence of heterosexuality for, but otherwise queer stories hurt no one. We’ve been erased plenty.

            • Roxana

              It’s true we have no evidence of Lizzie’s ever being sexually active with anybody of any gender. Given the era that’s not surprising. I suppose there’s no harm in creating fictional relationships. As opposed to making historical claims on no or misunderstood evidence.

            • Violet

              Lizzie’s homosexuality, is based on conjecture, she was never very interested in men, or sought their company, according to some nurses who took care of her while she was hospitalized, called her mannerisms, “Quite masculine” And there was a letter in which she wrote the lines “I dreamed of you the other night, but I do not dare to put my dreams, on paper.”

  8. M

    I think I would’ve rather seen this miniseries than the Lifetime one, that’s for dang sure.