The Keeping Room is an unbearably suspenseful feminist revision of the siege story, overturning our expectations by varying the power dynamics of sex, race and war. It’s the American South, 1865. The Civil War is almost lost. And war means cruelty. Three women – two sisters (Augusta, Brit Marling, and Louise, Hailee Steinfeld) and family slave Mad (Muna Otaru) are eking a sparse living from the land in their isolated colonial mansion with the men of the family at war. Two Yankee soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller), who have broken off from the approaching Union army, brutalised by conflict, drunk on moonshine and bent on rape and wanton destruction, track Augusta to the house, where the women barricade themselves in.
Of necessity, the women have learnt to fend for themselves. Poverty and deprivation has broken down the barriers between mistresses and slave. Stoic Mad reveals her previous ill treatment and suffering. Resourceful older sister Augusta has taken on a protective role and is handy with a shotgun. All three find courage and combine their forces to save their lives, turning themselves from hunted to hunter, from victims to killers. “What if we were men instead of women?” they wonder.
It’s written by a woman, Julia Hart, directed by British Daniel Barber (Harry Brown), well acted by the female leads, and shot often in semi-darkness, with a muted palette, but amidlandscapes of epic dimensions, beautiful with lush forests.
The Keeping Room is showing on Oct 12th, 14th & 15th at the 58th BFI London Film Festival