114 minutes – Drama
Release date: September 13, 1995
Canadian distributor: Seville Pictures
Growing up in Canada in the 1950s there are certain cultural truths that produce strong echoes throughout your life. The Springhill mining disaster, is just one example. The impact of the story on a young mind, while not scarring, forever binds you in an odd sense of nationhood. Nationhood through loss. Losing so many people in one accident is like losing them in a battle. You may expect it to happen, but when it does it remains a shattering event. It is against the bleak backdrop of a small mining community that Margaret`s Museum unfolds. To be precise it is the late 1940s and early 1950s and it is Nova Scotia. Margaret MacNeil, played by Helena Bonham Carter, has lost both a father and brother to ”the pit,” as the miners call it. She works as a scrubwoman in the village hospital. Periodically throughout the film the alarm bells sound as the hospital staff brace for a rush of new accident victims from underground. Based on The Glace Bay Miner’s Museum and other stories by Sheldon Currie, a professor of English who grew up in a mining family on isolated Cape Breton Island, the film is both picturesque and startlingly raw. Margaret’s Museum provided a breakout for its star and shocked her loyal fans at the time. Gone are the lavish gowns and beautiful settings associated with Bonham Carter films prior to this time. As if to make as bold a statement as possible, when the film opens she is wearing a flour sack. She plays the role like a previously well-behaved child let lose to explore all of her emotions and she accepts this freedom with exuberance. Ultimately the film is a love story, and the love interest, Neil, is provided by Clive Russell. The fact that he towers over her adds to an underlying sense of impending doom that permeates the film. Yet he provides a soft and surprisingly romantic presence in Margaret`s otherwise humdrum life. Their relationship survives, as long as he holds to his promise not to work in the mine. When Margaret and Neil marry over the opposition of her mother, financial difficulties force him to go back on his word. Nominated for 11, Margaret’s Museum was given six Genie Awards including Best Actress for Helena Bonham Carter, Best Supporting Actress for Kate Nelligan, and Best Supporting Actor for Kenneth Welsh.