Women Talking


‘…doubles down on the notions behind the ongoing fight for women’s rights in a dynamic and challenging way…’

When Frances McDormand won her Oscar for Three Billboards way back in 2018, she made her speech a call to arms; she wanted films made by women, relevant to an audience of women, and not the usual Hollywood tokenism. Many projects, some long held, others freshly developed, sprang forth from the moment; the 2023 list of awards hopefuls now includes such female-driven projects as She Said and The Woman King, but arguably the most incendiary is Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, which features McDormand and a top notch cast, but also doubles down on the notions behind the ongoing fight for women’s rights in a dynamic and challenging way.

Based on a novel by Miriam Toews, Women Talking takes inspiration from a real life event in Bolivia, in which a group of Mennonite women discovered that the men of their community have been drugging and raping them using tranquilisers. In this fictional version, the wronged women plot an escape which would involve finally separating themselves from a male-dominated community, a schism that will inevitably separate family members, and break up young families. Ona (Rooney Mara) is pregnant, and wants to stay and fight the women’s case, while others, including Salome (Claire Foy) are willing to respond by killing the men responsible, while Maraiche (Jesse Buckley) remains to be persuaded. The route forward isn’t clear; the diligent August (Ben Wishaw) takes notes as the women try to talk things out.

JJ Abrams recently made an enthusiastic endorsement of Polley’s striking, unequivocal film on social media, prompting Polley to cheekily suggest that maybe audiences who like Star Wars will like this. Sadly, that’s unlikely to be the way the box-office pans out, but while Women Talking may never be a mainstream hit in the way that male-driven fantasies are, it’s an urgent game-changer in terms of portraying a direct, inimitable philosophy behind women removing themselves from abuse. Given that male on female violence is so prevalent in today’s society that it’s rarely even remarked on, never mind acted upon, Polley’s film is timely in pointing out an unpleasant truth that we generally choose to ignore; that women generally get a bad deal from the men in their lives. What to do about this is what we need to talk about…

Immaculately acted and well conceived, Women Talking is a bracingly radical film that doubles down on the notion of how important processes of conversation and communication are in terms of changing how we think. It’s a serious, prescient film that everyone should see, building up to a cathartic scene of unimaginable sacrifice that is hard to accept. Polley is someone I’ve followed with interest since interviewing her for 2006’s Away from Her, with 2012’s semi-autobiographical and very personal Stories We Tell probably her best to date. A child actor, Polley talked about how she now feels that no child is capable of making the decision to have an acting career at the age she did; it’s a viewpoint Polley understood was not practical, but throws a specific light on this film’s conclusion. Women Talking is not a film about survival, or resilience, but instead dares to ask the question; given where we are, what happens next? And the hard-won answers that Polley’s film provides make it a genuinely radical, revolutionary text for anyone who cares about the state of humanity moving forward…

Women Talking is coming to cinemas in the United Kingdom on 10 February 2023. Thanks to Universal Pictures UK for advance access.


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  1. Weight stuff. Generally, i try to skip the reviews for a film I’m planning to see. This is halfway between putting me off and making me depserately want to go. There’s a ton of religious docus which are nothing but women being abused.

    • No scenes of abuse in this. It’s is all, as the title suggests, Women Talking. Unfortunately unlikely to run for long…

  2. I read your review this morning but it’s taken me a while to get round to commenting. Between patients I’ve been looking up the links and reading about the actual happening as well as the authors interviews and the wiki synopsis of the book she wrote that the movie is taken from. I think I will not watch this, but have sent for the book instead. Movies about the abuse of women always make me end up hating men for a few days after. Don’t want to perforate any chaps eardrum 🙂 It’s funny (not funny haha) how fundamental extremist religions result in the subjugation and abuse of women, you have to wonder WTF goes on in blokes heads.

    • I appreciate the considered response, and I can fully imagine why this topic might make you feel angry. Have been watching a netflix show about religious indoctrination and abuse of women that makes a similar point. There are no acts of violence on screen in this film, and I’d suggest you take a look if and when you felt ready. My own take is that the Bolivia event, while striking in itself, if something different from the fictional version depicted here, but both should be talked about and discussed in their own right. As a man, I’m all too aware of what goes on in men’s heads. Religious men who use their power to abuse women. Non-religious men who use their power to abuse women. It’s a trope that repeated over and over again in history, and while disguised a little due to MeToo, it’s very much with us today. Even talking about this is taboo, and its a subject that causes great upset, but for varying reasons. Anyway, as long as no ears were harmed, I commend your restraint!

  3. A friend was telling me about this (she quite disliked it, so I’m intriuged by your positive review as she watches lots of serious films) but I had it confused with She Said. The first few minutes of our conversation were very “who’s on first?” and culminated with me incredulously asking “Harvey Weinstein assaulted Mennonites?!”

    • I’m sure this will split many people. It’s not a film about moving on and finding what we have in common. It’s a film about acting on experience. For many people, that message will not be acceptable. For me, whether you accept the thesis or not, it’s something which needs to be said. Get out to the flicks and see for yourself.

      My favorite cross purposes review was for War of the Planet of the Apes. The review said ‘I watched this over someone’s shoulder on a plane. I thought it was Dunkirk until the monkeys showed up’

      Few can match that kind of insight.

  4. I will certainly try to see this. I have been a big Sarah Polley fan so far and I was surprised to discover a Canadian feminist backlash re this film from Seventh Row. They have a podcast episode that you can access here:
    I haven’t listened to it all yet and will wait until I’ve seen the film. The novel is Canadian but the rights were bought by Frances McDormand for her company and I think that part of the argument against it is that Polley’s adaptation pitches for Oscar recognition. Is it really in a 2.76:1 aspect ratio as IMDb suggests?

    • 2.76 doesn’t compute with my experience, but I was seeing it on an awards platform, which isn’t always the same version seen in cinemas. I’m hearing all kind of reasons to pick holes in the film, but I’m not persuaded by the arguments against at all. My feeling is that people are uncomfortable with the powerful, some might argue strident philosophies espoused here, and looking for any reason to mark it down. I think Polley is saying some things here that are a step further than current sentiments; ie that women could and can potentially break away from men. That causes all kind of ripples in the stagnant pond of public opinion; will be keen to hear your opinion, but I found this shocking and eye-opening in equal measures. Polley gets that child actors won’t be replaced by robots because of her own experience, she laughed about this when I interviewed her, but that doesn’t mean her point has no meaning. Similarly, I doubt she wants women to completely seperate from men, or expects that to happen as a result of this film, but that doesn’t mean that the notion has no value, not least to make people look again at male-female relationships…

  5. I don’t like Star Wars any more, so I’m guessing I won’t like this. But just in case, I’ll watch this right after that one where the woman has a car baby.

      • Now, don’t misunderstand me. I think the issue you’re trying to spotlight is an important one, but since you and I have a very different view of what movies should “be” or should try to accomplish, it is very hard for me to talk seriously in the comments. Add in that our world views are quite different, and that makes it even harder.

        • I guess there is a specific issue about films like this. They will not appeal so much to those who dig fantasy stories. I’m not up for violence against women, and I’m more than happy to talk up a rare film that highlights that issue. Everything else is a matter of taste, I’m expressing my view rather than suggesting what anyone else should think. I can’t make up anyone’s mind for them, nor would I seek to. It’s a free country…

  6. There are Mennonites in Bolivia? I’m confused about what’s going on here and haven’t followed what this movie is about. I just heard it was a MeToo movie. Is a Mennonite community being used as a stand-in for the condition women find themselves in, in 21st century America? That seems harsh.

    • First article that came up is here;

      The film doesn’t name names in terms of places, but you’d be right to think that a Mennonite community is being used as a point of comparison. That might be harsh, but it’s harsh out there for women who are losing ground rather than gaining it in terms of their rights just now.

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