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Two Lizzie Borden Biopics

16 Jun

Sarah Bunting does a pretty fair job in comparing what a Lifetime Movie Channel vs. HBO rendition of the Lizzie Borden story would look like.  At least she is acknowledging the Sevigny project is not moving.  Here’s what she wrote on one of her blogs:

“Two Lizzie Borden Biopics Enter; One Leaves

2013-06-14-lizzie

According to the nursery rhyme, Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks — and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. But the nursery rhyme doesn’t know the half of it: it was her stepmother; she didn’t hit either of them that many times; she may not have hit anyone at all (she was acquitted of the murders); she had a shoplifting problem that could have derived from her father touching her inappropriately…it’s one of the great American crime stories, not least because it technically remains unsolved.

Lizzie is getting the biopic treatment in an upcoming Lifetime movie, with Christina Ricci in the Lizzie role; the production just added Clea Duvall (as Lizzie’s sister, Emma) and Billy Campbell (as Lizzie’s lawyer, Andrew Jennings). Not only that, but TV Line seems to think the HBO version of the story is still in play; Chloe Sevigny made a few headlines in March of 2011 when HBO announced the development of the two-part miniseries, but it’s gone quiet since then.

Let’s just assume that it’s still a going concern, because a Sevigny/Tom-Hanks-produced iteration of the case would kick ass — especially if it comes out at the same time as the Ricci version. An embarrassment of gory riches! But who would do it better?

Lizzie

Sevigny makes a more believable Lizzie. It’s close, and Ricci is a solid actress, but she’s a bit too dark and petite to match Lizzie physically, and Sevigny’s work on American Horror Story is great practice for the psychological demands of the Lizzie role.

Winner: HBO.

Other Casting

It’s probably unfair to compare them without intel on who else might have joined the HBO project’s cast. As impressive as Duvall and Campbell can be, you’d have to think the Hanks imprimatur on Hollywoodized history would attract even bigger names. And it’s just my opinion, but Duvall would work better as the maid, Bridget (and I’m dying to know who’s cast in that role).

Working with what we do know, though…

Winner: Lifetime.

The Crime Itself

The nursery rhyme is right about one thing: Lizzie did use a hatchet. Crime-scene photos of her father do exist and are as hideous as you would expect. HBO is demonstrably not afraid to go there, whereas you’d expect Lifetime to soft-pedal the gore.

Who you rank higher here depends on your stomach for monster make-up. I’m a fan of grisly realism.

Winner: HBO.

The Trial

Might depend on their respective takes on Lizzie’s innocence. Occam’s razor dictates that she’s guilty, but the physical evidence is ambiguous. Either way, Lifetime is expert at both lady-psycho stories (see also: their upcoming Jodi Arias flick) and woman-in-peril stories.

Winner: Lifetime.

The Aftermath

After her parents’ deaths, Lizzie bought the house she always wanted in the fashionable part of town, and began spending a lot of time with an actress and her company. Many accounts stop juuuuuust short of saying that Lizzie and Nance O’Neil were…you know…Lebanese, while implying that their relationship, whatever its nature, estranged Lizzie from her sister. If that part of Lizzie’s bio merits exploration, HBO will do a better job; Lifetime seems likely to skip from the acquittal to the maid’s rumored deathbed confession to the credits.

Winner: HBO.

So…Who Will Do It Better?

Like the murders themselves, there’s just a lot we don’t know: who’s playing what, whether HBO is even going to film their Lizzie Borden movie, who’s writing the Lifetime version. In a perfect world, HBO sees an opportunity to be the Lizzie 30 Rock to Lifetime’s Studio 60 and gets things rolling with Sevigny’s team. In this world, we have to dance with the Lizzie what brung us, and since Lifetime’s Lizzie is actually happening?”

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Posted by on June 16, 2013 in TV, Theatre & Film

 

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