Margaret's Museum | Chicago Reader

Margaret's Museum

That economic exploitation coerces men to perform a dangerous job is given a lot of lip service in this movie set in the 1940s on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, where outcast Margaret is courted by Neil, a former coal miner who never intends to mine again. But Margaret's mother is suspicious—having lost her husband and a son to the mines, she's convinced that love means mourning. The rest of the story is so telegraphed you wish it would just be over. The characterization of Margaret—a woman who doesn't just swallow the misery that life among coal miners brings her, but acts out at the end of the movie in a way that might be shocking if it weren't given away in the first few minutes—ends up trivializing the labor issue. And while the movie suggests that Margaret's culture unfairly labels her crazy—that her extreme behavior may be a reasonable response to her experiences—this just allows the filmmakers to appear to be demystifying a repressive society when they're really just making the most of the allure of an unrestrained female. Helena Bonham Carter's performance can't transcend this problem—no one's could. Had this 1995 movie been widely distributed before the overblown Breaking the Waves (1996), the later movie might have seemed derivative. As it is, they're both confused about the inherent meanings in their depictions of female protagonists who struggle with love and loss. The screenplay by Gerald Wexler and director Mort Ransen is based on “The Glace Bay Miner's Museum” and other stories in a 1979 collection by Sheldon Currie.

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