On the Basis of Sex is a conscientiously directed and almost perfectly accurate account of Ruth Bader Ginsburg finding her voice amongst the shouting of a patriarchal society. It explores her personal, academic and professional life from her time at Harvard Law School through to her first sexual discrimination case in the federal court during the 1970’s.
Felicity Jones’ (The Theory of Everything) performance is outstanding, despite her slight exaggeration of the Brooklyn accent and she is as eloquently supported by Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E) as the real Ginsberg was by her husband Martin ‘Marty’ Ginsburg.
The underlying narrative of Ginsberg’s personal life, not only softens the times that she could appear hard or aggressive to the viewer, it demonstrates a marriage built on love and equality and the stable foundations in which her daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) is able to explore the second wave feminist revolution occurring during the 1970’s.
On the Basis of Sex sees Director, Mimi Leder (The Leftovers) bring the subtle nuanced humour and intellectual precision of Daniel Stiepleman’s (Ginsburg’s nephew) screen play to life with her exceptional attention to detail. The viewer is transported to the 1970’s in a flourish of flared pants and unintentional misogyny, with clever choices made by the wardrobe and cinematography departments.
The movie is full of complicated relationships, that whilst needed more depth to be fully comprehended, display the support, problematic ally-ship and discouragement Ginsburg faced throughout her career. Demonstrated particularly well in the depiction of Mel Wulf of the A.C.L.U (Justin Theroux), who at one point makes the all too familiar reference to a woman being much more palatable if she would just smile, is perhaps the frustration felt by women in regard to our modern-day allies. It shows not only Ginsburg’s strength of character as a wife, a mother and as an academic but also as a woman as she navigates her way through each obstacle with grace and inspirational passion for her cause.
Whilst some artistic licence has been used to exaggerate the role of Ginsburg’s daughter played in her early career and the depiction of the court case to ensure the movie maintains its status as a drama, these historical inaccuracies in no way do a disservice to the over-all narrative. They were changes introduced with the support of Ginsburg herself, along with the fictionalised involvement of Dorothy Kenyon in the case being supported by the A.C.L.U to ensure that the women that came before her were acknowledged as having laid the groundwork for Ginsburg’s success.
The importance of a movie like On the Basis of Sex is made only more significant by today’s political climate and the reawakening or ‘third wave’ of the feminist movement. It is on the basis of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s actions delivered in such an inspiring and triumphant way that one can walk away from this film feeling like it is possible for the actions of a simple few to change the course of history.
In cinemas from 07/02/2019.
Reviewed by Sarah Burley