The Keeping Room 




A well-intentioned drama set in America in 1865 proves to be a misfire.


Keeping Room, The

Sister act: Muna Otaru, Hailee Steinfeld and Brit Marling


It would appear from the publicity notes that Julia Hart is very proud of her screenplay for The Keeping Room and that it gained a lot of interest, but that is ironical because despite good intentions it is the writing that lets the film down with consequences that are severe. Hart conceived her story set in the American South towards the end of the Civil War as a tale of three women drawn together in heroic defiance when they are threatened by two foragers belonging to the advancing Union army. Two of the women (Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld) are sisters without a mother and whose father and brother are away at war, but significantly the third woman (the Liverpool-born Muna Otaru) is their black servant. She is initially looked down on at times although well before the end that has changed and this becomes a story of sisterhood.


That’s fine in principle, but under Daniel Barber’s direction a not untalented cast fail to bring it to dramatic life. Paradoxically the macho western Jane Got a Gun, set around the same period and also featuring a heroine driven to defend her homestead, draws us in far more to feel the threat. That had Natalie Portman and dramatic flair, but here the lack of depth and warmth in the writing make us mere observers of events. Following an opening segment in which two women are shot (one having just been raped), the film continues to put its women into situations where they become victims: the film’s title links to a past situation involving the serial rape of slaves, there is another rape in the present and of two minor female characters one is killed and the other commits suicide.


In that outstanding film The Homesman (2014) women suffered quite as much, but the depth of feeling expressed ensured that it emerged as a tragic drama lamenting their lot and applauding their courage. Here the superficial writing makes us merely uncomfortable viewers of their victimisation while failing to make anything of the male characters. A contrivance quickly kills off the only sympathetic soldier while the rapist is an out and out villain and his companion, Moses (Sam Worthington), is unconvincingly made to fall for the older sister despite having been hardened by war. Confronted by her bearing a rifle, Moses declares that things could have been different and, indeed, they could have been. But that would have required a much better screenplay.




Cast: Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, Sam Worthington, Kyle Soller, Ned Dennehy, Amy Nuttall, Nicholas Pinnock.


Dir Daniel Barber, Pro Jordan Horowitz, Matt Williams, Dete Meserve and others, Screenplay Julia Hart, Ph Martin Ruhe, Pro Des Caroline Hanania, Ed Alexandra Rodriguez, Music Mearl and (uncredited) Martin Phipps, Costumes Luminita Lungu.


Wind Dancer Films/Gilbert Films/Anonymous Content-Lionsgate UK.
95 mins. USA. 2014. Rel: 17 June 2016. Cert. 15.