The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple Movie Poster Image
Gold-rush-era heroine deals with issues like abuse, suicide.
  • NR
  • 2001
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

When faced with difficult, life-changing decisions, it is best to follow your heart.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lucy Whipple is an avid reader who uses her knowledge to help her friends when they are in need. Her mother is a strong-willed woman determined to make a life for herself and her family in Lucky Diggins, California, after the death of her husband, and through the many hardships she faces throughout the movie.


Early in the film, one of the characters commits suicide. A gunshot is heard, and sprayed blood is visible on the fabric of the man's tent. Characters fight while drinking in the saloon. An old man attempts to molest a 14-year-old girl. He begins to touch her on her arm, hair, and shoulders, and as she attempts to escape, he grabs her. This old man is punched out by another character. This same old man is found dead in the river. His body is shown in the coffin, and his wife is accused and put on trial for her murder. A small mining town catches fire; as the citizens of the town attempt to put out the fire, fire spreads to the back of one of the men, who is rescued from burning by another man who covers him in a blanket.


There is one extended kiss between consenting adults.


Infrequent profanity: "Damn," "Sons-a-bitches," "massa-two-s--ts," and a young boy refers to liquor as "panther piss."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In line with a western set in 1850, characters are fond of drinking in a saloon, which is the setting for rare arguments, fights.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCornelia Amiri October 16, 2020

great family western - a coming of age story empowering for girls

It's a great movie about a widow who takes her three kids west to a California gold mine town to run a boarding house - and her oldest daughter's comi... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love strong female characters

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate