Shirley is a biographical drama that was released in 2020. The film is based on a book by Susan Scarf Merrell, a fictionalised account of an episode in the life of horror writer Shirley Jackson (played by the excellent Elizabeth Moss) in the late forties/early fifties. The setting revolves around the time Jackson was writing her novel, Hangsaman.
Shirley tells the story of a young couple viz. Fred and Rose Nemser (played by Logan Lermer and Odessa Young). The couple are newlyweds relocating to Bennington College for Fred’s job as a lecturer and end up staying with Jackson’s husband Stanley Hyman (Fred’s colleague) at their residence. Rose is conscripted to become cook, housekeeper and companion for Jackson.
The two ladies are basically the main characters of Shirley. Rose is a typical housewife of that era, docile and compliant while Jackson is a mentally fragile creative, who is agoraphobic and addicted to her literary work. Despite their differences, the duo will bond and develop a close relationship.
By the end of the film, both Rose’s and Jackson’s stories have been irretrievably changed by the other and they move into the next phase of their lives. The movie offers a possible insight into the lives of these women, at opposite spectrums of the female experience in the USA of that era.
Moss is at her typical best. She is able to communicate the anger, fear, intensity and wild creativity powerfully behind her eyes whenever the screenplay demands them. Young and Hyman provide a solid foil for Moss’ talents, allowing Moss to bounce off her performance in dynamic fashion.
Now, the Nemsers themselves are utterly a fictional construct, inserted into the life of Jackson and Hyman with a huge dollop of artistic license. It does not matter that none of what is depicted in Shirley is true, the story engages and resonates throughout. Highly recommended!
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