Starring: Matt Smith, Hannah Murray
Directed by: Mary Harron
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: 29 July 2019
Format: Blu-ray / DVD
Number of Discs: 1
1969 saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, the first test flight of The Concorde supersonic airliner, Prince Charles invested with the title ’Prince of Wales’, the Woodstock music festival takes place and The Manson Family brutally murdered nine people – including the actress Sharon Tate!
Charles Manson was a career criminal, wannabe rock star and leader of a cult, The Manson Family (he died in prison in 2017). The group consisted of over 100 people, mostly young women from middle-class backgrounds who Manson could manipulate and brainwash with psychoactive drugs, hallucinogens, sex and then radicalized by Manson’s teachings including bizarre theories of a race war. In August 1969, acting on the orders of Charles Manson, several members of his family brutally murdered Sharon Tate and friends and the following night Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Why? Because whatever Charlies says gets done without question.
In the biopic Charlie Says, Matt Smith stars as the infamous Charlie Manson and his “Family”. But the film itself isn’t focused on Charlie but three of his most trusted female members during the late 1960s – Leslie “Lulu” Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia “Katie” Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon) and Susan “Sadie” Atkins (Marianne Rendon). Three years after the gruesome murders, still under the spell of their leader Charles Manson, these three women are in adjoining cells, segregated from the rest of the prison population, and serving life sentences (their original death sentences were commuted to life in prison after the death penalty was lifted). This movie is told from the perspective of the women, mostly that of Leslie/Lulu and the attempts of their prison education teacher Karlene Faith (Merritt Wever) to show them that they were and still are brainwashed by Manson and to show them the error of their ways.
Overall, Charlie Says is an interesting take on the Charlie Manson story. It tells the story from a different perspective as it is not telling the story of Manson as such, but how the women got involved with him and ultimately ended up with life imprisonment because of his brainwashing. Essentially making these women victims of Manson and having to come to terms with the horrific crimes that they committed on Manson’s behalf.
The story is told using flashbacks from their prison cells to their time at Spahn Range with Charlie and his followers and the murders. It is an interesting telling of the story of how the Manson Family would believe and do everything that “Charlie Says” but unfortunately there was not enough depth to the story and didn’t really show anything new – a bit of a missed opportunity. That said, it was still interesting to watch.
Matt Smith is an actor I would never have thought would be right for playing the role of a notorious serial killer, but I thought the former Doctor Who played the part of the paranoid madman extremely well and had a very good likeness to him. Hannah Murray (I know her from Skins rather than Game of Thrones) was excellent as Leslie “Lulu” Van Houten, her innocence and naivety shone through whilst being taken in by Manson and his followers.
I didn’t think this was the best of films based on Manson and his followers and felt it missed something in the retelling of Leslie’s story, but it was an interesting perspective and a different side to the story. I think I will read The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten: Life Beyond the Cult written by Karlene Faith (a book that this film was based around) to hopefully get a more in-depth story.
If you have an interest in Manson and his family, this a fairly good story told from the point of view of a young woman under his control. It also shows the attempt by Karlene Faith to deprogram her, Katie and Sadie from under the spell of Manson and try to get them to see what exactly they did. It does feature a lot of nudity, sexual acts and drug taking but that is how it was with Manson so is required to tell the story.
Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel are still in prison, Susan Atkins died in prison.
Available to buy from Amazon here.