Having allegedly committed just two murders, Lizzie Borden hardly stands out in the serial killer canon as the most prolific. Nor is she the most flashy; she used something like a hatchet, which had been done before and has been done since. But something about Lizzie struck the public from the moment her father’s body was discovered in 1892, and she’s remained at the forefront of murder discussions ever since. Borden remains so interesting, in fact, that Lifetime is willing to fund a brand-new project where Christina Ricci stars as her. But is there substance to this film…or just sensationalism?
She Gave Her Father 40 Whacks…
Lizzie Borden was a Sunday school teacher in Fall River, Massachusetts during the summer of 1892, and the youngest daughter of Andrew Borden. She lived with him, her stepmother Abby and her older sister Emma, in their home. Andrew Borden was the richest man in town, but frugal to a fault and not well-liked…apparently, not even by his own family.
On a day that was much hotter than most, the bodies of Andrew and Abby were discovered on two different floors of the home. Both had been brutally, violently killed. As police investigated, the evidence seemed to point to innocent-looking Lizzie – who didn’t swing an ax 80 times either way. Abby was killed with 18 or 19 blows, Andrew 10 or 11.
It was a theory that her lawyer – and the public – rejected. How could any woman really commit such a crime, her lawyer asked. It was impossible, inconceivable. Unthinkable. A sensational trial followed, with Lizzie at the center, and everyone was speculating about the horrific crimes over sedate family suppers. It became a circus.
Gruesome murders. A splashy trial. A strong female at the center of the drama. How is it possible that Lifetime took this long to make this story into a movie?
In Lifetime’s “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,” wide-eyed Christina Ricci stars as the title character. Her mix of elfin beauty and mischievous depth could prove perfect for the complex historical figure Borden has become.
The New York Post calls the film “a hatchet job,” and not necessarily in a tongue-in-cheek way.
Instead of bringing something new to the story, perhaps adding a twist or two or even featuring a different point of view, Lifetime simply re-hashes the grisly tale. The only potentially new element they introduce is Emma Borden, Lizzie’s older sister, who was absent during the murders. Many believe this gave Lizzie the opportunity to commit the murders, but Emma is often nonexistent when it comes to re-tellings of the events. Clea DuVall plays Emma for the film.
Lifetime’s “Lizzie” isn’t the first made-for-TV film to depict the bloody crimes. Elizabeth Montgomery played her in 1975 in a brilliant (and Emmy-nominated) turn. She even did the killing scene fully nude – because the film theorized that Lizzie removed her clothing to avoid bloodstains – but that version was only shown in Europe.
Still Too Soon?
And despite the 122 year wait, Lifetime’s movie just may be jumping the gun a little. New evidence in the famed Lizzie Borden case may yet come to light. Andrew Jennings, who defended Lizzie at her trial, kept journals. This was only recently discovered in March 2012. The lawyer’s original pre-trial notes and clippings that he saved are still being reviewed. The contents have yet to be made public. The secrets they yield just may give other production companies fodder for a brand-new take on this ages-old story.