Painted Angels Review

A group of strong women from different backgrounds try to survive in the Wild West using the only thing available to them…

by Jessica Mellor |
Published on
Release Date:

31 Jul 1998

Original Title:

Painted Angels

In the Wild West in the 19th century if you weren't male, married or monied there weren't a lot of options available to you. Independent women arriving from all over America and beyond found only dust, dirty cowboys and the promise of a warm bed in a brothel in return for joining the world's oldest profession.

Working horrendous hours under the watchful eye of the emotionless madam Annie Ryan (Fricker), the girls do a thankless task because they know even this is better than the alternative. Irish Eileen (Gallagher) is the most spirited and selfless of the bunch but her faith starts to dwindle when her best friend is murdered, and vain young Georgie (Lisa Jakub) relies heavily on the matriarchal guidance of Ada (Anna Mottram). Nettie (McGillis) supplements her family's paltry income by performing illegal abortions. Then there's newcomer Katya (Becker), an enigmatic German dancer who eventually forms an unbreakable bond with Eileen.

The beautifully bleak landscapes complement the characters perfectly and the acting from all the leads is astounding. Superbly shot, this is a graceful drama that does full justice to its subjects and surprisingly the most powerful scenes are those involving the women on the job - looking like queer china dolls with their heavily made-up faces while the futility of their lives is etched into their expressions. And although there is no shortage of flesh on show, it is never salacious.

There are no happy endings or therapeutic showdowns and therefore it may be unsatisfactory for some audiences who are used to being told what to think or feel. But the characters are so compelling that the pathos and respect for them evolves naturally.

An intelligent look at loss, loneliness and painted ladies. Grin and bear the slightly long running time and try something a little bit different.
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