5 March 2010 | midge56
Excellent True Life Story of Fanny Kemble
This movie is the true-life story of Fanny Kemble, an English actress in the 1800's who met and married a US plantation owner while on theatrical tour with her father. Fannie was appalled by the treatment and conditions the slaves had to endure. She spoke out for the slaves and tried to help improve their living conditions and treatment, which set her at odds with her husband who expected her obedience. Her intention to publish her personal journals to inform the public of the inhumane treatment of the slaves became a bitter source of conflict between Fannie and her spouse. She became increasingly involved in the welfare of her husband's slaves, cleaned up their camps and helped them build an infirmary, which only added to her deteriorating marital problems.
Then, at great personal risk, she also became involved in the "underground Railroad" which was a group of covert humanitarians who aided slaves in their attempt to escape to freedom.
Jane Seymour does a moving performance of Fanny Kemble's struggles to help the slaves and inform the public of the indignities and inhumanities the slaves had to endure... and the ramifications which resulted from her involvement. The movie was well written and follows Fannie's life as she learns the truth about slavery and cannot remain silent or uninvolved. Her loving relationship with her husband, Pierce Butler, quickly began to deteriorate as she learned of his indifference toward the welfare of the slaves. In his view, slaves were nothing more than a piece of property under the brutal control of his ruthless overseer who treated the slaves with less consideration than the livestock. Yet, her husband believed his slaves were treated better than those on other plantations because he allowed families to remain together. He became increasingly oppressive in reaction to his wife's open defiance in the presence of his slaves, his friends and neighbors. As Fannie used her fame as an actress to speak out and inform the public of the ugly truths behind slavery, her husband became more oppressive to stifle her involvement. Her opinions backlashed upon his reputation and standing as a plantation owner and as a grandson of a well-respected founding father whose influential friends included a former President.
The slaves, as depicted in this film, were unexpectedly reluctant to trust Fannie and reluctant to change their situations. They considered themselves fortunate to be able to keep their families together, unlike neighboring plantations where families of slaves were split up and sold and subjected to much more extreme abuse. As depicted in this film, the slaves on her husband's plantation feared and suffered reprisals resulting from Fannie's involvement in their welfare.
Fannie's husband had initially doted on her but later began to use their children to control and punish Fannie for her involvement with the slaves and abolitionists... yet she was unable to close her eyes or remain uninvolved toward the indignities they suffered.
This movie was written quite differently than other movies about slavery. It has much softer tones and minimal mild violence than you might expect. The core of the story was focused on Fannie's humanitarian efforts and involvement and depicted how her journals changed the way the government and public opinion responded to the plight of the slaves.
I would have given it the full 10 stars, but after reading more about her life story online, I felt the movie could have been more inclusive about the events in her life. The story had been overly softened in an effort to create a family film but that also allows it to be an educational family movie for children over the age of 13. There is a brief nude scene of Seymour with her clothed husband but very mild and filmed from back views in a tasteful manner. The overall violence is less than a child would see in a schoolyard these days. Some whipping with a lash; backhanding his wife; nothing graphic beyond the one brief, distant scene of the aftermath of a torched runaway... but did not include any violent scenes of the incident. Although the actual historical violence had been softened for TV audiences, it was not necessary to subject the audience to the level graphic violence, which permeates TV today, in order to tell the story of her life. The movie was done tastefully. Both Jane Seymour and Keith Carradine were excellent in their performances of this story.
In addition to showing the aspects of Fannie Kemble's life, the director managed to include the perspectives of her husband, Pierce Butler in addition to the reluctance of the slaves and the concern expressed by Fannie's friends; a rare 360 perspective of all points of view.
Like the other reviewers, I'm sorry to admit I had never heard about Fanny Kemble prior to watching this movie. I had overlooked this VHS tape in my extensive collection and had not played it until recently. The film was well done with an excellent cast and would have been worth watching even if it did not have historical significance. I would not have known it was made for TV until I read about it online. It brings us the story of this forgotten historical figure and how one person could unselfishly make such a difference in so many lives. Despite the price she had to pay, she continued to stand by her principles of compassion and humanity, which she felt all individuals should be entitled. She publicly spoke out during an era when such views were not welcomed by society.
Seymour and Carradine were very compelling in their portrayals of the historical figures in this story. I'm enjoyed the movie very much.