Who­dunit brings us no closer to truth


It’s not quite the old­est, cold­est case on the books, but the mur­der of An­drew and Abby Bor­den on Aug. 4, 1892, is un­likely to have any fresh light shed on it, 126 years later.

That hasn’t stopped Chloë Se­vi­gny from be­com­ing the lat­est to por­tray maybe-mur­der­ess Lizzie Bor­den in pop­u­lar cul­ture.

Past ver­sions have in­cluded El­iz­a­beth Mont­gomery (Be­witched) in a 1975 TV movie and Christina Ricci in a 2014 TV biopic that spawned a brief series.

There was also a 1965 opera, a 1948 bal­let that changed the trial verdict to guilty, and an old chil­dren’s rhyme that in­flated the num­ber of axe strokes in the mur­ders to 81 from an es­ti­mated 29.

Thus it’s clear artis­tic li­cence has al­ready had its way with his­tory. But di­rec­tor Craig Wil­liam Mac­neill goes for a scat­ter­shot ap­proach to the crime and its pos­si­ble mo­ti­va­tions.

Let’s start with the vic­tims. An­drew Bor­den (Jamey Sheri­dan) is por­trayed as a heart­less busi­nessper­son and a gen­eral no­good­nik who rapes the new maid (Kris­ten Ste­wart) on a nightly ba­sis. He’s also a pi­geon killer.

His sec­ond wife, Abby (Fiona Shaw), clearly went to the Dis­ney school of wicked step­moth­ers. You cer­tainly don’t feel much sym­pa­thy for ei­ther of them.

Then there’s Se­vi­gny as his­tory’s prime sus­pect.

Bryce Kass’s screen­play draws from a hodge­podge of lat­ter-day the­o­ries, in­clud­ing one that says Lizzie was an epilep­tic, and an­other that posits a les­bian af­fair with Bridget, the maid.

Just to keep us on our toes, it adds a wicked un­cle (De­nis O’Hare) who may have de­signs on the fam­ily for­tune; threat­en­ing let­ters in the mail; and a noc­tur­nal prowler, never clearly seen.

All that’s needed is for a va­ca­tion­ing Her­cule Poirot to show up and de­clare that ev­ery­one did it.

Se­vi­gny and Ste­wart are well matched as the old maid (Lizzie was 33 at the time of the mur­ders) and the young maid (Bridget was a decade her ju­nior), ten­ta­tive and flut­ter­ing in their mu­tual de­sire, but oth­er­wise emo­tion­ally squashed by the op­pres­sive mood of the Bor­den house and its pa­tri­arch.

But the film sel­dom lets them alone, al­ways jam­ming some anachro­nis­tic, thrill-pitched mu­sic into the ac­tion, or turn­ing down the lights — we’re told Bor­den thought elec­tric il­lu­mi­na­tion an ex­trav­a­gance — un­til we can barely see what’s go­ing on.

As such, Lizzie op­er­ates as a so-so thriller and a not-so his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment, more con­cerned with the pruri­ent de­tails of the mur­der — like was the cul­prit naked per­chance? — than with a full ex­am­i­na­tion of the case.

We may never know the whole truth, and Lizzie cer­tainly doesn’t move us any closer to it.

Kris­ten Ste­wart, left, and Chloë Se­vi­gny star in Lizzie.

Kevin Jorge­son stars in The Dawn Wall.

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