A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Ballad of Lucy Whipple is set during the California gold rush in the mid-19th century, so there are miners who drink, fight, and curse. There are several violent and disturbing scenes including a suicide, where blood is visible, and inappropriate touching on the arm and hair of a 14-year-old girl by an older man. Issues of slavery, death, and the difficulties of frontier life are frankly discussed. While some of scenes are a bit too intense for tweens, viewers in their teens and older might find some interesting discussion topics from what it's like for families to move someplace new to how people cope with the loss of loved ones to the harsh realities of those who moved to California during the gold rush.
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What's the story?
After the death of her father in 1850, 14-year-old California Whipple moves from Massachusetts to a mining town called Lucky Diggins, California with her mother (Glenn Close), and her younger brother and sister. As an avid reader, her sensibilities are offended by the dreary surroundings and the roughneck behavior of the miners, and she wishes she could go home. Instead, she decides to change her name to Lucy, and tries to make the best of her new life. As she grows accustomed to her surroundings, she must confront death, slavery, and the daily difficulties of life in the California frontier. She befriends a girl with an abusive father, and when this father is found dead, it is up to Lucy to prove that her friend's mother should not be hanged for the crime.
Is it any good?
THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE is an above-average made-for-TV movie from 2001. It deserves some accolades for not sugarcoating the harsh realities of those who moved to California during the gold rush of the mid-19th century. Death, slavery, suicide, domestic abuse, and more are frankly depicted. While many movies about the Gold Rush tend to go right to the moment when the prospector finds the gold in them thar hills, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple prefers to talk about the day-to-day survival of the miners, and a young girl attempting to get used to (and maybe even eventually like) her new surroundings.
The story is less of a straight narrative and more a series of adventures involving Lucy and her interactions with those around her. Wilford Brimley makes a brief appearance as a county sheriff who is (you guessed it) irascible and crotchety. The acting as a whole is well done. Fans of westerns, as well as fans of independent-minded teenage girls growing up in changed surroundings, will enjoy this one.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about life in California mining towns in 1850. How accurate do you think this film depicts what life was like for miners, for escaped slaves, and for others who made the trek back in those days?
What are some of the ways Lucy Whipple is like many 14-year-old girls, no matter the time or place? What are some qualities about her that are unique to her specific situation?
What difficulties did Lucy's mother face, and how did she try and cope with these problems?
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