Radium Girls is based on a true story about young women who worked painting radium based paint on watches and clocks in the 1920s. Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler, the film details a fight to get safe working conditions and help for the women who were sickened by the radium. The film is on Netflix.
Radium Girls tells the story of Bessie (Joey King) and her sister Jo (Abby Quinn). Both worked in the radium plant. Their sister Mary, who died 3 years earlier, had worked there, too.
To do the work, a thin paintbrush was dipped in radium based paint, then licked, and then used to paint. At least it was done this way in the film. In reality it was lick, dip, paint. Either way, the women were ingesting radium.
Bessie took longer to do her work because she didn’t lick the brush. Jo did lick the brush and was more productive. At a penny per clock face, Bessie made far less. In the end, it was what saved her life. Jo’s health declines rapidly during the film.
Slowly, they came to understand that radium was making the women sick. The company denied it and said the girls who died all had syphilis.
Bessie made friends with Walt (Collin Kelly-Sordelet), who introduced her to a group of radical activists and communists. Among them was a photographer named Etta (Susan Heyward). Etta showed her films of people marching for justice. Women standing up for what was right was a new concept to Bessie. Etta introduced Bessie and Jo to an advocate who suggested they file a lawsuit and found them a lawyer. Their case would affect workers in factories all across the country.
The progress of the lawsuit and the eventual outcome made up the remainder of the film.
I found the film unfocused. There was extraneous material that didn’t seem to make a difference in the story and some symbols meant nothing to me. I thought the use of real archival images and footage was powerful.
The sister relationship between Joey King and Abby Quinn was beautifully acted. I enjoyed watching Bessie progress from a dreamy teen to a strong and powerful woman.
The film was written by Ginny Mohler and Brittany Shaw. Key parts were filled by Cara Seymour, Scott Shepherd, Olivia Macklin, and John Bedford Lloyd.
Take a look at the trailer.
Did you see Radium Girls when it came out in 2018? Are you interested in watching it now?