Women Talking

DRAMA; 1hr 44min

STARRING: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand

Crossroads: from left, Whishaw, Mara and Foy

Writer-director Sarah Polley’s sharply cast drama is self-credited as “an act of female imagination,” which is another way of saying that while its basis is a cold reality, the consequences were fictionalised by Miriam Toews in the 2018 novel on which Polley’s rigorous screenplay is based.


The reality is that between 2005 and 2009, at a Mennonite colony in Bolivia, 100-plus women and girls were raped in their drugged sleep by a group of colony men who were subsequently sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. Polley (Away from Her ) and Toews have taken that outrage and run with it all the way through the women’s imagined response to their violation, setting the scene in a nameless colony in 2010. With the jailed men off applying for bail, a group of eight — Mara, Foy, Buckley, Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, Kate Hallett and, alas only briefly, McDormand — gather in a hayloft to debate the pros and cons of leaving everything they know behind.


The stakes are obviously daunting. If the women leave the colony, it will be a leap into the unknown slapped with an automatic expulsion from the kingdom of Heaven. If they stay, they could literally be sleeping with the enemy. Unable to read or write (schooling being solely the province of boys) and with subjugation embedded in their DNA, the outside world is as alien and impossible to them as the prospects of further assaults and servitude. What to do?


With mild-mannered schoolteacher August (Whishaw) taking pro–con notes, the hayloft back and forth is dense with ideas inflamed by a last ditch sense of conviction. They may look like peahens in their demure frocks and sculpted braids but these victims of circumstance are fiercely self-aware, taking groundbreaking issue with God’s eternal unknowability, compliance as a form of enslavement and the courage to let the a lifetime go.