Lifetime’s “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax” hints at lesbianism and murder

 
 

Lizzie Borden is a famous figure in American history and her story has inspired an opera, a stage play, several movies and songs. Her Fall River, Massachusetts house is a museum/bed and breakfast, and a children’s jumprope song recites a rhyme about her:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

While that number is somewhat exaggerated, Lizzie Borden is infamous for being accused (but not convicted) of murdering her parents in 1892. The fact that she was a young woman inspired all kinds of shock, gossip and folklore that is now being portrayed in a Lifetime movie. This Saturday Christina Ricci stars as the suspected killer in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax.

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Set just a short time before the murders take place, Christina plays Lizzie as a bored young woman with a rich businessman father and not-so-friendly stepmother. Clea DuVall is her older sister Emma, a much more careful woman who wants to please her parents despite their rigidity. The women are somewhat sheltered, accompanying their parents to church and with a dad who is very outspokenabout his disdain for their not being married off. The women do not seem to be interested in finding men to marry, but Lizzie has wild oats to sew and finds delight in stealing from a local boutique and from her stepmother’s purse.

The ax murders happen early on in the movie, as most of the story follows the aftermath: The police investigation, the trial, and Lizzie and Emma’s attempts to move on after Lizzie’s eventual acquittal. Although it is never explicitly stated that Lizzie killed her parents, it’s heavily suggested, as with most Lizzie Borden folklore.

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Another piece of historic discussion revolving around Lizzie was her sexuality. A close relationship with actress Nance O’Neil (played by Andria Wilson) is hinted at in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax as Lizzie becomes a socialite who takes Nance’s arm and seems most excited about her being a guest at her party. It’s so subtle that only those that are aware of the gay rumors might notice, but Emma becomes visibly upset at Lizzie’s interest in both Nance and being a party girl and it is shown as a reason the sisters parted ways and never spoke again.

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While both Christina and Clea do spot-on jobs with the parts as they were written (especially Christina, who is so clever at portraying women with something to hide in almost plain sight), there is no real raison d’être when it comes to this made-for-TV-movie. There’s no real additional perspective given to the story, and it, sadly, was not filmed in the actual town or house in which the murders took place. (The current owner was a little upset they weren’t asked for anything except for the renting of a couch for the production.) If you are interested in Lizzie Borden’s story, you’d more likely find satisfaction in a trip to Fall River than in the Lifetime version.

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Lizzie Borden Took an Ax premieres Saturday, January 25 at 8/7c on Lifetime.

 
 

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