The Sculptress (1996)

“I was reminded of an abbatoir.”

The Sculptress is a made-for-British television film based on the suspense novel by Minette Walters. The film’s protagonist is grief stricken author Rosalind Leigh (Caroline Goodall) who’s having difficulty coping with her daughter’s death. Rosalind is asked to write a book on an infamous murderess known as the Sculptress, and this is a nickname the killer was given by the tabloids for the nasty manner in which she carved up her mother and sister. The crime was so brutal, that the policeman who discovered the bodies passed out at the sight of the crime scene. He left the force shortly afterwards.

Facing a tight deadline, Rosalind goes to the prison to meet the Sculptress, a large young and hostile woman named Olive Martin (Pauline Quirke). Olive was found guilty of the heinous crime, and although she’s never denied her responsibility, her motive remains unclear. Most people chalk up the killings to Olive’s jealousy of her much prettier, slim sister, but a few people believe that Olive loved her sister too much to brutally murder her. Five years after the crime, there is still no solid motive. Olive is a sly, craftily intelligent woman who capitalizes on the fear she generates. Rather unlikable, she possesses an uncanny ability for reading other people, and in a parasitic fashion, Olive discovers and dwells on Rosalind’s pain. Rosalind and Olive’s relationship is not smooth. Olive realizes that Rosalind just wants a story, and Rosalind suspects that Olive is manipulating her.

Olive is the product of a dysfunctional family. And while there’s rot aplenty, just what is relevant and what is irrelevant is a matter for Rosalind’s investigation. As the film unfolds, and Rosalind begins her research for her book, she gradually comes to the realization that Olive is innocent. Rosalind discovers that witnesses are remarkably reluctant to tell their stories. There’s Olive’s lawyer–a man who’s supposed to want the best for his client, but he’s very happy with Olive under lock and key. Then there’s Olive’s mysterious lover. But then there’s Olive herself, and at times she’s her own worst enemy. When she’s not playing with Rosalind’s mind, she’s teasing the prison vicar and pinching his candles for nefarious purposes.

As the plot thickens, the story becomes bogged down in some additional complications. Rosalind’s ex husband is thrown into the plot, and the complications involving Olive’s estate unfortunately engulf the solution of the grisly crime. For fans of British mysteries, however, The Sculptress is worth catching. From director Stuart Orme

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