By: Trevor Chartrand
Marlene dramatizes the notorious true story of the wrongfully-convicted Canadian Steven Truscott, who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of classmate Lynne Harper in 1959. Appropriately, the movie pays special attention to his wife, the titular Marlene, who spent years tirelessly researching his case and eventually clearing his name. The justice system is put under close scrutiny during this understandably melodramatic, romanticized, version of true events and director Wendy Hill-Tout’s wholesome, feel-good approach to this subject matter proves to be quite effective.
Specifically, the film focuses on family and the strength of a family who sticks together, even at the end of their ropes. Having done his time, Steven was off the radar and living a peaceful enough life under an assumed name. Marlene helps him to realize that having to hide his true self is only an ongoing and unfair punishment; not only to himself, but to his wife as well as his children. In reopening his case, Marlene has Steven face demons and awakens memories of his treatment by the judicial system, a cause for strain and emotional turmoil in the name of righting a wrong.
Marlene, played by Kristin Booth (Big News from Grand Rock), is a fascinating character and a great example of a dedicated, loyal partner. The nuances of Booth’s performance is one of the biggest achievements in the film. She is also very much in sync with Julia Sarah Stone (Honey Bee, The Marijuana Conspiracy), who plays a younger, teenage Marlene. The romantic nature of the film allows for a ‘big’ performance, and works appropriately for this material. Recognition also goes out to Booth’s hair/makeup team, who transform her look throughout the film as the character ages several years in this narrative.
As Prescott, Parallel Minds’ Greg Bryk is exceptional as well, portraying a very patient, almost meek, man who has been worn down following years of mistreatment by the judicial system. Viewers unfamiliar with the story will be able to understand Prescott’s innocence instantly thanks to Bryk’s mild-mannered, calm and likable character.
Marlene explores the tragic and, unfortunately, common concept of injustice and wrongful conviction, and the very real way it effects the lives of the innocent. The successes of the Truscott family are something to be celebrated, and the film exudes warm and fuzzy feelings all around. With the exception, of course, of the dark implications beneath the surface of Marlene.
In a way, the film is truly heartbreaking, with the notion that at this point, Harper’s murder may never be solved. The film shows how law enforcement ignored evidence and testimony in favor a quick conviction in a very public case. While we get to witness Steven and Marlene receive their much-deserved exoneration, Harper’s family may never see closure. This ominous undercurrent creates a uniquely uncomfortable viewing experience, in direct contrast to the warmth of Truscott’s successes.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor