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Hen Pecked

Directed by Marcus McSweeney

Written by Sheila Duncan and Marcus McSweeney

Starring Eileen Davies and Gawn Grainger

Short film review by Hannah Sayer

The definition of henpecked is for a woman to continually criticise and order about her husband. With outstanding but contrasting performances from the silent Gawn Grainger and the oppressive, fear invoking Eileen Davies, Hen Pecked is a masterful depiction of how the ill stricken husband in this destructive marriage finally takes a stand against their mutual long term suffering.

The film begins with Stan, played by Gawn Grainger, lying in a casket, as he suddenly gasps and the shot turns to black. This sets up a creepy tone, suggesting that this is foreshadowing his fate. The direction moves forward to the actual beginning of the film, as the audience is given a tour of the hens being farmed outside and then inside the couple’s home, where there are a great number of hen ornaments around the living room. Stan is using an oxygen mask and is sat in the living room, surrounded by these ornaments; a metaphor for how he is penned in and ‘henpecked’ by his wife, as he is unable to escape from her horrible clutches. The viewer starts to feel uneasy at the relationship between the two characters, as Cynthia, played by Eileen Davies, accuses Stan in a threatening way of moving ornaments. As he takes his pills, he spills water on the floor, causing Cynthia to shout at him about how he has contaminated “my bloody carpet” with his “bodily fluids”. Stan’s incapability and severe deterioration in health is clear. Cynthia’s cruelty and self absorption is made apparent as she uses the personal pronoun “my” when describing the carpet in the home which the married couple share. There is no doubt about it that this is a marriage controlled by her cruel rules.

Cynthia’s focus on the past is relentless, as she continuously talks about Mr Piper, her old boss who she used to work for as his secretary. Her intentions are clear as she tries to make Stan jealous by insinuating that he is incapable of measuring up to the greatness that is Mr Piper. She blames him for the loss of their child, suggesting that it is his “bodily fluids”, again, which have been the cause of all their grief. Her suggested lack of sanity is prevalent as the film progresses, which is especially clear when she refers to her hen ornaments scattered round the room as their children, a disturbing and yet another reference to the predominant theme of being henpecked.

From the outset there is a predominant focus on hands; from Cynthia handling the hen’s eggs and ornaments to Stan’s shaking hands, where he finally rebels after his dreamlike vision of rebellion. This foreshadowing of the final outcome of the film is clever when it is tracked that this visual imagery is used throughout, but only proving its significance as the film comes to a close. Marcus McSweeney creates an eerie and unsettling atmosphere throughout as he paints a heartbreaking picture of a marriage where not love, but suffering is shared. The ending does not leave the audience with certain answers as to whether Stan has triumphed over the oppressive nature of Cynthia, but we are left with hope that he has finally got through to her and shown her that he is no longer putting up with her abuse.

Hen Pecked is among the other short films featuring at this year's Cork Film Festival.


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