VOD film review: Kate Plays Christine
James R | On 14, Oct 2016
Director: Robert Greene
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil
Watch Kate Plays Christine online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Curzon Home Cinema
In 1974, news reporter Kate Chubbuck shot herself live on air in Sarasota, Florida. Like a real life Network, the tragic suicide remains as shocking today as it was at the time. So much so, in fact, that two films have now emerged, both examining the event.
Christine, directed by Antonio Campos, sees a remarkable Rebecca Hall take on the title role in a biopic drama. Kate Plays Christine, which just screened alongside Christine at the London Film Festival, takes a more curious approach, by following an actress attempting to take on the role in a separate film. On paper, it’s the harder sell, but it’s also the more thought-provoking of the pair, raising questions about each.
Kate Lyn Sheil, whom you’ll recognise from House of Cards, is the one bracing herself for the part – and, as you’d expect, it’s not an easy one. Sheil is daunted by the whole thing, struggling to understand her character’s mood, mental state and motivations. We know that she was depressed. We know that she was frustrated by the sensationalism of news at the time. We know that she wrote her own pre-prepared obituary, even using the words “attempted suicide”, because she was too good a reporter to assume it was successful before the fact.
But what else? We watch as Sheil tries to recreate these facts in person. She goes to the shop where Christine bought her gun – and, after donning a wig and costume, returns to purchase a weapon without being recognised. She sits at the news desk. She practises reading her statement. These are intriguing, oddly compelling things to witness in their own right, as a rare insight into the behind-the-scenes process that goes into a performance. But it’s not just an emotional struggle: it’s a factual one too.
We discover, eventually, that there is no footage of the actual suicide available anywhere – not on YouTube, not on the local news station’s archives. We briefly see some old footage of Christine delivering a report, but Chubbuck remains an elusive subject, even just in terms of what she dressed like or how she walked – crucial things for an actress to work out, if she’s hoping to play her.
Sheil, who has been impressive in many small productions (she jokes that she doesn’t want to be described as “subtle” in yet another review), is a disarmingly vulnerable presence on screen – and Greene builds upon that by layering her apparently genuine rehearsal with his own candid shots of her in real life. By the end of it, the uncertainty is palpable, even extending to Sheil questioning the whole project: if Christine can’t be fully understood, how can the film do justice to her, or give her a voice? And why, if the news station and family have gone to such lengths to stop the footage of her suicide being seen, would anyone want to relive that on screen anyway? The result is a challenging, complex experience that raises questions about the existence of Christine and Kate Plays Christine in the first place, let alone the way they attempt to portray their subject. It’s a powerful reminder that even in 2016, her suicide remains impossible to fully comprehend.