×

TV Review: ‘Lizzie Borden Took an Ax’

Despite the eye-catching billboards, Lifetime's latest stab at Lizzie is curiously lethargic

With:

Christina Ricci, Clea DuVall, Billy Campbell, Stephen McHattie, Sara Botsford, Gregg Henry

Hard to believe it’s been almost 40 years since Elizabeth Montgomery took a juicy whack at the role of Lizzie Borden, and in casting Lifetime’s billboard-friendly update “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,” Christina Ricci initially looks like an inspired choice. What emerges, though, is a curiously lethargic movie — more courtroom drama than anything else — before a finishing kick that’s the only reason worth tuning in. Oddly constructed, Lifetime’s latest attempt to produce TV movies with more edge isn’t exactly razor-sharp, but strictly based on its camp factor, “Lizzie” should get the job done.

As anyone who remembers the nursery rhyme knows, Ms. Borden, living in Fall River, Mass., in 1892, was alleged to have taken an ax and murdered her father and mother (OK, stepmother) with a whole lot of whacks. (Forty in the rhyme, but roughly a dozen does the trick here.)

Did she do it? And what exactly could have been the motive? That’s the gist of a movie that positions Ricci as a vaguely seductive spinster (with an old-maid sister, played by Clea DuVall); someone who appears to harbor incestuous feelings for her dad (Stephen McHattie); and a woman who defiantly says she’s only a prim Sunday-school teacher on Sundays.

Yet after Lizzie’s grisly discovery of the bodies, gears shift into trial mode, with a former associate of her dad’s (Billy Campbell) defending her, and an aggressive prosecutor (Gregg Henry) doing all he can to discredit her in what amounted to a tabloid-style trial of the (19th) century.

All of this is not only conventionally done, but provides virtually no insight into its title character. That’s because the entire movie is essentially just an extended preamble to a sequence showing how the killings happened — or at least, might have happened. Until that point in the story, “Lizzie Borden” feels like a slog, while incorporating unorthodox touches that prove wholly arbitrary, such as a contemporary soundtrack.

Directed by Nick Gomez from a script by Stephen Kay and David Coggeshall, one suspects “Lizzie Borden” is one of those projects — much like the recent ratings grabber “Flowers in the Attic” — where the title, casting and marketing did most of the work, with the details viewed as something of an afterthought, and the assembled talent mostly wasting its time.

Nevertheless, seeing that still image of Ricci standing on a staircase, holding the bloody ax and sporting a mysterious stare (so that’s what Wednesday Addams grew up into), it’s rather difficult to argue the point, even if it’s wielded with about as much subtlety.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Lizzie Borden Took an Ax'

(Movie; Lifetime, Sat. Jan. 25, 8 p.m.)

Production:

Filmed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, by Peace Out Prods. in association with Sony Pictures Television.

Crew:

Executive producer, Judith Verno; producer, Michael Mahoney; director, Nick Gomez; writers, Stephen Kay, David Coggeshall; camera, Steve Cosens; production designer, James McAteer; costume designer, Marilyn Vance; casting, Susan Edelman. 120 MIN.

Cast:

Christina Ricci, Clea DuVall, Billy Campbell, Stephen McHattie, Sara Botsford, Gregg Henry

More TV

  • AMERICA'S GOT TALENT -- "Live Results

    TV Ratings: 'America's Got Talent' Finale Draws 10 Million Viewers

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on if you have not seen the season 14 finale of “America’s Got Talent.” The finale of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” which saw blind, autistic singer Kodi Lee crowned the winner, drew almost exactly 10 million viewers for the Peacock on Wednesday night. Bolstered by a robust, velvety Cher performance, [...]

  • Ava-Mark-Split

    Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo Selected for SAG-AFTRA Foundation Honors

    Ava DuVernay and Mark Ruffalo have been selected by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation for its fourth Annual Patron of the Artists Awards. The awards will be presented on Nov. 7 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The show benefits the nonprofit SAG-AFTRA Foundation and is not televised. Previous SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the [...]

  • Programme Name: The Cry - TX:

    Brazil, U.K. Lead International Emmy Awards Nominations

    Brazil and the U.K. lead the pack in this year’s International Emmy Awards nominations, which span 21 countries across 11 categories. Titles and talent from Britain and Brazil will vie with other hopefuls for the trophy in five categories: drama, best performance by an actor, best performance by an actress, arts programming and documentary. Brazilian [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld photographed by Art Streiber

    Hailee Steinfeld Drops New Song From Apple TV Series ‘Dickinson’

    Oscar-nominated actress and singer Hailee Steinfeld dropped a new song on Thursday, “Afterlife (Dickinson)” from the upcoming Apple TV+ series “Dickinson,” in which she stars and serves as an executive producer. According to the announcement, Steinfeld drew lyrical inspiration from her character, Emily Dickinson, and the themes and ideas in many of her literary works. [...]

  • Kim Kardashian Kim Kardashian out and

    Nielsen Now Tracks Celebs' Social-Media Touts of TV Shows

    Nielsen is providing a new lens into how celebrities and talent can boost the exposure of TV shows on social media. The measurement company announced that its Social Content Ratings solution now measures talent promotion of television programs across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. According to Nielsen, talent now drives nearly 60% of all social engagement [...]

  • Ree with Sticky Pork

    Food Network Strikes Three-Year Pact With Ree Drummond, 'The Pioneer Woman'

    Ree Drummond will be offering Food Network viewers more hearty family meals for the next three years. Drummond, who has hosted “The Pioneer Woman” on the Discovery-owned network since 2011, has signed a new deal with the outlet that calls for new episodes of her program. “Ree Drummond’s incredible following and popularity has led her [...]

  • David Zaslav

    Steven Spielberg's 'Why We Hate' Is More Timely Than Ever, David Zaslav Says

    The political state of the world today has made the upcoming docuseries “Why We Hate” relevant in a way that its producers, Steven Spielberg and Alex Gibney, hardly expected when they began developing the project five years ago, Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav said Thursday. “Things are much more of a challenge and hate [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content