Film Review – Miss Marx

Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen had 3 children who survived into adulthood: young Jenny, Laura and Eleanor. This film is about the latter. The film starts in March 1883 with Karl’s funeral, and ends in March 1898 with Eleanor’s suicide. The film shows Eleanor (nicknamed ‘Tussy’) meeting the socialist playwright Edward Aveling at her father’s funeral, and charts how he neglected her, over the next 15 years.

Miss Marx was written and directed by the Italian Susanna Nicchiarelli and is an Italian-Belgian co-production. The biggest problem with the film is you have to do your homework before watching it. The first time I saw it, I was constantly asking: ‘who is that?’ and ‘how do these characters know each other?’ Once I did some research, the film was much more enjoyable on second viewing. The final half-hour of it is too slowly paced, and also features a bizarre scene in which Eleanor smokes opium and dances around her house to punk-rock music (really). The most glaring omission from Miss Marx is that there’s no William Morris and no mention of the Socialist League (the party they helped to found as a breakaway from the increasingly reformist Social Democratic Federation).

Nicchiarelli crosses the creative-licence-line when it comes to (Karl Marx’s housekeeper) Helene’s son, Freddy. In the film, Engels is depicted as being Freddy’s father, however, the former confesses (on his deathbed) that Karl is the latter’s real father. While it’s up for debate whether or not Freddy was Karl’s son, Engels did not adopt him.

Moving on to the positives: the film has an amazing punk-rock soundtrack (provided by the band the Downtown Boys); the acting is excellent; it’s a wonderfully made motion picture; and it includes some great moments of the titular character delivering some of Eleanor Marx’s real speeches/writings (either directly to the camera, or to an audience within the film).

The best moment in the film was when young Jenny’s son, Johnny, is upset about his grandpa (Karl Marx) dying, so he asks Eleanor if she’s sure there isn’t an afterlife. Eleanor tells him that there isn’t, and, to comfort him, she says: ‘Think of it this way, if we’re wrong and there really is a life after this one, then Grandpa is surely burning in hell.’


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