The history of the nineteenth-century alleged murderess Lizzie Borden survives today mostly in the form of the popular schoolyard rhyme; “Lizzie Borden took an axe / And gave her mother forty whacks / When she saw what she had done / She gave her father forty-one”. Chloë Sevigny’s long-gestating project, finally brought to screen by director Craig William Macneill, adds welcome shades of nuance to this sensationalist story to create a quiet, simmering drama with bursts of eroticism and violence.
Sevigny plays the title role, an unmarried woman in her thirties who lives a stifled life under the rule of her domineering, wealthy father. Lizzie finds temporary respite when new housemaid Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart) joins the family. Hesitant friendship and solidarity develop into an urgent, secretive sexual relationship between the two women, yet larger forces are at work in the Borden household which will lead these characters to their shocking, inevitable end.