Chloe Walker from the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford previews this week’s Discover Tuesdays presentation Christine.
In 1974, twenty-nine-year-old Floridian reporter Christine Chubbuck shot and killed herself, live on air. In spite of the sensationalistic nature of her death, her name had been largely forgotten – that is, until last year, when in one of those strange coincidences that seem to hit the film world with regularity, two films about her were released in the same week. Kate Plays Christine was a documentary, in which actress Kate Lyn Sheil researches Christine in order to play her in a movie (which was never released). Christine is a more conventional biopic, following the ill-fated reporter (Rebecca Hall) in the last few weeks of her life.
Rebecca Hall, in what surely must be the most under-the-radar and underrated performance of 2016, illuminates Christine’s contradictions with a soul-shaking nerve. She’s ambitious and diligent, and has already achieved a lot just by being a woman working in a newsroom in the 1970s. And yet she still lives at home as her thirtieth birthday approaches, and regularly throws huge, childlike tantrums in front of both her mother and her boss. She’s a seething mass of emotions, vulnerabilities, hopes and fears, and Hall handles all these complexities with the sensitivity that such issues deserve.
And that commendable treatment of Christine extends through the whole film. Such a fragile, childish woman could, in the hands of a less delicate director, be ripe for a mocking. Or she could have been treated as a martyr for the sexism she faced, and the lack of help with her mental health issues. Campos’s direction and Craig Shilowich’s screenplay stride between those two potential problems with apparent ease. Christine is always treated sympathetically, her mounting disappointments becoming ever more painful both for her and for us as viewers. And yet, her neglectful, unfair, and sometimes cruel treatment of those around her is never glossed over.
Though she’s the film’s centre, its overall scope is much wider. At a time when the fourth estate is under such relentless scrutiny, the discussion of how the news should be presented seems particularly timely. In addition, her battle against the sexism of her bosses is unfortunately as relevant as ever.
Campos’s film is a masterful, tragic look at a woman in desperate need of assistance that the people around her, no matter how well intentioned, just didn’t know how to give. With a magnificent lead performance, and themes that remain relevant more than forty years after the act, it makes for uncomfortable, but vital, viewing.