Radium Girls Review – Excellent, Thought-Provoking, Superb Cast

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Radium Girls, from Juno Films, presents the true story of one of the first victories over a corporate giant who for decades, without thought or concern, willingly subjected its female workers to radium poisoning for profit.

Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler, Radium Girls stars Joey King, Abby Quinn, Colby Minifie, Cara Seymour, Scott Shepherd, Susan Heyward, Neal Huff, John Bedford Lloyd, Olivia Macklin, Veanne Cox, Carol Cadby, Gina Piersanti, Juliana Sass, Tom Galantich and Adam LeFevre.

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The film begins in the 1920s with a Carnival Barker, played by Adam LeFevre, who announces the miracle cure and newest wonder drug, radium. The cure for whatever ails you, guaranteed to create a luminescent girly glow. 

It is the roaring 1920's, in New Jersey and two sisters Bessie, played by Joey King, and Josephine, played by Abby Quinn, are young, carefree, and each with dreams that took them far from the boundaries of their home and the mundane work as a dial painters at American Radium.

While they earned what was considered good wages, at 1 cent per dial, the girls were urged to use a particular method, dip the paint brush in the radium, lick the brush to smooth out tip, and paint the dial, dip, lick, paint. This method guaranteed clear numbers on each dial and accelerated production.

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Suddenly their world begins to unravel as Jo becomes sick and loses a tooth, at the root, and Bessie, at 17, is still young enough to believe people are innately good and no one would intentionally poison workers.

As Jo's symptoms progress, corporate exploitation of workers is exploding with workers in New York City, just across the Hudson River, marching in the streets demanding better working conditions. Bessie, who is so much more into Hollywood, than politics and crusading, meets a local activist, and becomes motivated to find out why her sister is sick.

Unsure of how she can help, Bessie approaches American Radium's owner, Arthur Roeder, played by John Bedford Lloyd, who arranges for a doctor to examine Jo.

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Also, during this time, they meet Wiley Stephens, played by Cara Seymour, a lawyer who runs the New Jersey Consumer League and are hoping to exhume Mary, Jo and Bessie's, older sister whom they were told died of syphilis. Coincidentally, we find out the doctor diagnosis Jo's condition as syphilis also, to which she replies to the doctor, "that's impossible, I'm a virgin."

The time allowed for men to labeling women as whore's and defaming them by presenting a diagnosis of venereal disease. This would make it nearly impossible for any of the clearly reticent females to receive fair treatment, and with one or more male testifying of multiple sexual encounters to cover the actual radium poisoning behind the symptoms, syphilis stuck until Mary was exhumed.

Bessie who failed to follow the prescribed rules of "dip, lick, paint" was not poisoned and become the activist who warned the women of the death sentence if they continued working. The others were all exposed, with radium poisoning seeped into their bones, and as we are told, if a Geiger counter were placed on their graves, they would register for one thousand years.

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Radium Girls is exceptionally good, every element of the film delivers.

The story is true. American Radium poisoned its workers. Four women brought a lawsuit in 1925 and turned the court of public opinion that backed the company into a corner. An element that is also thought-provoking is that nearly 100 years has passed since this ground breaking fight in workplace occupational laws and daily we see many similar issues as actual historical footage is used to highlight contemporary 1920 issues including police accountability with African American citizens marching in 1925 for racial justice. And 95 years later we are still marching for police accountability.

Without heavy handed presentation Radium Girls highlights many current, contemporary, methods, means and techniques used to silence women who have the audacity to demand equal rights, equality, and a workplace free from toxins. The expendability of females is clearly portrayed.

Radium Girls is thought provoking, well directed, with a superb cast. It opens October 23, 2020. See it.

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