In 1975, after a Supreme Court ruling requiring it, the first female miners joined Eveleth Mines in Minnesota, causing a gender clash that for some would take over twenty years to bring to conclusion. North Country tells a fictionalised version of Lois Jensen’s story – Jensen, one of the first female miners at the company, was the initial plaintiff in the first successful Sexual Harassment Class Action in the US.
Josey Aimes (aka Lois Jensen) is powerfully portrayed by Charlize Theron, in a challenging role that requires strength and personal power, alongside naïveté and frailty. Theron is masterful, her turn wonderfully truthful in its portrayal of what can happen to those who don’t hold the cards. Aimes’ life has been one long story of abuse, and being let down, by men, (in particular her workplace supervisors whose responsibility it is to ensure her welfare), and in spite of that she is dignified and strong when she claims all she wants to do is earn a living to support her children. Suffering one setback after another in her new workplace, she has the strength to finally do what none of the other women can… stand up for herself and her rights as a worker. Theron never once falls out of character, and although the Minnesotan accent is not immediately familiar, she never seemed to fail in this respect either. She is quite brilliant in this film, and thoroughly deserves the Best Actress nominations she has received from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Oscars), the Screen Actors Guild, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes) and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTAs).
In less significant roles, but nonetheless also incredibly impressive, are Frances McDormand and Michelle Monaghan as Aimes’ closest work colleagues. McDormand – also receiving multiple award nominations for this role – is known for bringing strong women to the screen, and succeeds again in another demanding role. Her achievement in showing that Glory’s physical deterioration can’t crush her spirit is remarkable. Monaghan, last seen in the special Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, is also excellent. The standout of the supporting cast, however, is Richard Jenkins as Aimes’ father Hank. Jenkins is astonishing in demonstrating the conflict experienced by men who’ve known only one way for so long. He is disgusting, and then inspiring, and Jenkins makes him so real it almost hurts to see him punishing himself and his daughter.
Niki Caro’s gentle progression of the evidence of the multiple wrongs heaped upon this woman is a true highlight. Gradually, piece by piece, the fragments come together in what is not only high class drama, but also something of a thriller. There are certainly edge-of-the-seat moments, not something one may have expected during the relatively sedate first act.
Unfortunately, there are several moments of clanging sentimentalism that detract from what is otherwise a brilliant film. The script occasionally suffers from being overly explanatory, and there are one or two ‘staged for the big screen’ moments that don’t quite fit the tenor of what is predominantly a quietly building drama.
The net effect of the brilliance in direction and performance, and what is undoubtedly an inspiring story, is a moving film that is both thoughtful and entertaining. The occasional setbacks aside, this is highly recommended.Rating: