Socialist pioneer Eleanor Marx is fully brought to life – with all her complexities and contradictions – in this stylised, lavish biopic featuring a deeply affecting performance by Romola Garai.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
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Combining punk rock outbursts, to-the-camera monologues, vintage stock footage and anachronistic elements with lush period production design and costumes, Susanna Nicchiarelli (Nico, 1988 NZIFF 2018) lends a contemporary slant to her portrait of Karl Marx’s youngest and treasured daughter Eleanor, a forward-thinking activist.
Eleanor’s (Romola Garai) early life is sketched in, but the film focuses primarily on the last fifteen years of her life, between her father’s death and her own premature demise by suicide when she was 43. While thoroughly dedicated to upholding her father’s legacy, Eleanor also seeks to liberate herself from his shadow, having been his secretary from the age of 16 as well as the Marx family’s caregiver.
Passionately committed to instigating social change for workers, the abolition of child labour and equality between women and men, socialist intellectual spheres lead her into the orbit of fellow Marxist activist and playwright, Edward Aveling (Patrick Kennedy). Despite his married status, the pair embark on an affair, defying conventions, which becomes the defining relationship of Eleanor’s life – and ultimately leads her to cut it short when the unfaithful and toxic Aveling betrays her.
Tragically, Eleanor’s firebrand intelligence – and her perception that “just as the workers are the creatures of a tyranny of idlers, women are the creatures of a tyranny of men” – holds no sway when it comes to love blinding her, wittingly or unwillingly, to her lover’s true nature. — Sandra Reid