Margaret's Museum

Canada/UK - 1995

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

"Margaret's Museum," set in Nova Scotia in the late 1940s, is a moody, earnest film about the human toll of coal mining. The film's pace is as lugubrious as the story's funeral processions past and present. You know within fifteen minutes where this story will end, but there is one real surprise, both grotesque and poetic, that is riveting.

The Margaret of the title is saddled with a bad reputation as a snot-nosed whore, inspired by her ever running nose and one indiscretion made when she was about ten. An indiscretion that had more to do with misunderstanding the facts of life than doing anything of a precisely carnal nature. She grows up to be a charwoman, with no friends and a sour-tempered mother, embittered by the loss of husband and son in the pit, to greet her at the end of the day.

One day, as Margaret's sitting alone in what passes for a cafe, drinking coffee and wiping her nose, a gentle giant of a man walks in and plays his bagpipes for her. Justifiably, this gets him tossed out none too gently. But Margaret, played by a spirited Helena Bonham Carter showing little of her usual, annoying twitchiness, is smitten and follows after him to begin a romance of epic proportions. Aside from a decided Gaelic charm, his chief attraction for her is that he's doesn't work in the mine. Nonetheless, throughout their bittersweet courtship and marriage, the shadow of that mine, and all the lives it's ruined, hangs over them

"Margaret's Museum" is great for the first third, then it wanders until the last twenty minutes or so, which are haunting. Was it really necessary, for example, to show Margaret and her mother squabbling every ten minutes or so throughout the two hour running time? Not that Kate Nelligan isn't a masterpiece of obdurate anger, incapable of saying three words without two of them being pure poison. But really, we got the point the first half-dozen times.

For all its riveting climax and fine performances "Margaret's Museum", fails to be anything but intellectualy engaging. The response to its monumental angst should be a torrent of emotion but is, instead, a trickle of ts- tsk.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 5/14/97



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