Enslavement: The True Story of Fanny Kemble (2000)





Director:    James Keach.

Starring:    Jane Seymour (Fanny Kemble), Keith Carradine (Pierce Butler), James Keach (Doctor Huston), Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (Joe), Janet Laine-Green (Elizabeth Sedgwick), Arlene Duncan (Harriet), Eugene Byrd (Jack), Sharon Washington (Psyche), Brett Potter (Owen Parker), Gerard Parker (Charles Kemble).

artist disturbed by southern slavery



Spoiler Warning:


This is a very good movie.  Jane Seymour does an excellent job as the English actress, Fanny Kemble, on an acting tour of the United States.  At her performances in Philadelphia, a Southern gentleman, Pierce Butler (Keith Carradine) of Georgia, keeps leaving a white rose after each of her performances.  He finally introduces himself and keeps popping up at places where she goes, so that she soon becomes enamored of the man.  

Her friend Mary Sedgewick tries to warn her that he has slaves, but Pierce has told Fanny that he does not own any slaves.  But after she marries Pierce, the honeymoon is virtually over at once.  Staying in a farmhouse, he soon starts to act like her master, wanting to dominate her completely.  He has misled her as to his true personality to an extreme degree.  

Things are tough in Philadelphia, but impossible in Darien, Georgia where Fanny sees the horrors of slavery up close and personal.  Many of her actions brings severe punishment on the slaves and the black slave community is split on whether or not she can be trusted.

Many of her attempts to help the slaves are thwarted by her husband and his brutal overseer. But she finally makes a break-through when she connects with the underground railroad, to bring slaves to freedom.  Her successes are very genuinely heart-warming rather than contrived. Seymour performs excellently.  And one cannot help notice the similarity of the abuse dished out by the husband to the wife and that dished out to the slaves.  And, just like the slaves had to act happy, so Fanny has to feign and flirt in order for her to accomplish her tasks of welfare.  

Her diary of her time in Georgia became widely known. In fact, its tales of brutal slavery helped influence England not to extend loans to the Confederacy.  And, in this way, she definitely had an impact on the outcome of the American Civil War.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

1809  --  born Frances Anne Kemble in London to a theatre family.

1829  -- her London debut Covent Garden as Juliet in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet; she becomes a popular success. She does both comedy and tragedy.

1834  --  she retires upon her marriage to Georgia plantation owner, Pierce Butler.

1835  -- publishes her journal.  

1838-39  --  Fanny Kemble's only visit to Georgia was in the winter of 1838-39 as she accompanied her husband south from Philadelphia on an inspection tour of his plantations. She only stayed for four months, but that was enough for her to form a lasting hatred of slavery.

1848  --  divorces; returns to the stage; very successful at giving readings in England and America, from the plays of Shakespeare.

late 1850s  -- Butler goes almost bankrupt.

1859  --  huge auction of half Butler's nearly 1,000 slaves in Savannah.

1863  -- publishes her Journal of a Residence of an Georgian Plantation.  Gives a a realistic picture of the evils of the slavery system in the American south.

1893  -- dies.


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