Margaretís Museum (1995)




Director:     Mort Ransen.

Starring:     Helena Bonham Carter (Margaret MacNeil),  Clive Russell (Neil Currie),  Craig Olejnik (Jimmy MacNeil),  Kate Nelligan (Catherine MacNeil),  Kenneth Welsh (Angus MacNeil),  Andrea Morris (Marilyn),   Peter Boretski (Grandfather Dunald MacNeil),  Barrie Dunn (Mr. Campbell),  Norma Dell'Agnese (Mrs. Campbell),  Glenn Wadman (Willy),  Elizabeth Richardson (Sister),  Ida Donovan (Sarah),  Gordon Joe (Hum Sing),  Wayne Reynolds (Fraser),  Murdoch MacDonald (Clerk),  Yow Wah Chee (Chinese cook),  Terry O'Keefe (Miner),  Liam Hussey (Peter),  Mary Alvena Poole (Woman),  Carol Kennedy (Tourist woman).

Margaret finds love but what are her odds for happiness when she lives in a town where half the men die down the coalpit



Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. A woman vacationer and her husband stop at a museum so the woman can use the restroom. Margaret gladly tells her the way to the bathroom. Several seconds later, the woman screams and comes running out of the museum. She tells her husband that they have to leave now. She gets in the car and they take off.

Flashback. Three years earlier. Margaret MacNeil narrates about the time she first met the very tall Neil Currie. He comes into the restaurant and walks over to the booth where Margaret is eating a bowl of soup. He asks her if he can put his case down at her booth. Margaret tells him to suite himself. They start off laughing because Margaret calls Neil the biggest son of a bitch she has ever seen and Neil replies that Margaret is the smallest son of a bitch he ever saw.

From the manís hands, Margaret already knows heís a coal miner. They exchange names and then Neil says. as he gets up, that maybe they will meet again. Before he leaves Margaret wants to know whatís in the big case. Neil says he will show her. He takes out his bag pipes and says he will play it for her. Margaret says no and tells him to get out, but Neil just says he will not.

The noise of the bag pipes disturbs the owners of the restaurant who just happen to be Chinese. They push Neil towards the door and then out the door. Margaret quickly grabs up his case and takes off after him. She catches up to Neil to give him his case. She asks him where is he staying? He says he has a room over at Brookside. Margaret lives on Cameron Street, so Neil says he will walk her home. She lives with her mother and grandfather. Her father died working for the mines.

The couple go into Margaretís house. Mother comes down and is surprised to see such a big man standing in her kitchen. She starts asking him a lot of questions. She learns that he did work at the mines but got fired because he would only speak Gaelic to the foreman.

Margaret goes upstairs to check on her hair, but has to rush downstairs as Neil starts playing the bag pipes again. She grabs the pipes saying that Neil will wake her grandfather. Grandfather bangs on the floor with his cane and Margaret goes into the living room where grandfather is. He writes her a note saying to let the man play the bag pipes. Margaret tells Neil: "He likes the sound of your cat fights." Neil says: "Of course, he does."

Margaret tells Neil that grandfatherís lungs are filled with coal dust and if they donít thump him on the back regularly, grandfather can choke up and die. Later Neil plays for Margaret while theyíre in the kitchen. He tries to kiss Margaret, but she quickly stops him and says: "Just because you can play that thing donít mean you can jump me." Neil is confused because he thought she was "ready". This makes Margaret mad and she tells him to get out while she pushes him to the kitchen door. Neil tells her: "Fair enough. I wonít jump you until weíre married." This really just makes her angrier and she asks who would marry Neil?  Heís just a miner.

Neil is taken aback by her desire to avoid miners as suitors. He says he will play for her every night until she is ready for him. Neilís calmness soothes her a bit and she is just about to kiss him when she spots her brother Jimmy watching them from a dark corner outside the house.

She tells him to get out of there, so Jimmy goes into the house. Neil now leaves saying heíll see her around.

The next morning Jimmy, goes down to the coal mine office. The man who does the hiring tells Jimmy that he came too late. He came at the right time, but other young men came earlier than he did. Jimmy walks sway discouraged.

A siren sound is heard indicating some type of trouble at the mines. The miners start running quickly to the mines. Margaret is scrubbing the floors at the local hospital. She drops everything and starts running to the mines. Before she gets half-way down the hall she stops because the first victim is being wheeled into the hospital. Margaret goes to see who it is. Itís a miner she knows. Itís Willy.

The nun helping prep Willy puts Margaret to work helping her. Willy starts talking to Margaret about tonightís dance.

At the dance, Margaret sits alone. She perks up when she sees Neil come walking across the dance floor. He comes over to her and she gets up to dance with him. A lot of people keep staring at them as Margaret is small and Neil is so huge.

Neil walks her home after the dance. He asks her to tell him both her happiest and saddest moments in her life. He wants to write her a song. Both moments deal with her brother Charlie Dave, who died down in the pits with her father. Her brother was only 16 years old. Neil watches as Margaret goes into her house.

The next morning mother complains that since Neil showed up, nothing is the same anymore. "Because the queen is too young to know what sheís doing." Jimmy comes to the kitchen table and mom tells him not to forget he has to teach Marilyn Campbell how to dance. Her mother is paying to have her daughter learn how to dance. Jimmy is not happy about it.

Margaret sits down by the water and stays there in a dreamy state. At dinner Neil is there and he plays his pipes again. Margaretís Uncle Angus comes over to have some apple pie with the family.

With her mother Margaret sits outside on the back steps. She says about Neil: "He makes me laugh." Mom says: "Make you cry too. Heíll dig coal and make you cry." Mom tells her daughter that she is turning her back on her mother, thinking of herself. She then asks Margaret why doesnít she marry a Jew in the town? Itís obvious that mom is very bitter about what has happened to her.

Jimmy goes over to Marilynís house. Margaret pokes her head around the corner of the house to tell Jimmy to grab the girl before he kisses her. Jimmy finds nothing funny about that remark. The mother open the door to let Jimmy in. She watches Jimmy like a hawk. She doesnít want the couple getting too cosy with each other. But when mother goes outside to check on the sound of the bag pipes, Marilyn virtually pastes her body up to Jimmy.

By the cliffs overlooking the ocean, Margaret suns herself on the grass and Neil plays the bag pipes. Neil remarks that while itís no Scotland, it is pretty here.

Neil now works in the Chinese restaurant as a dish washer. Late at night, Neil sings his song about Charlie Dave and his bride Maggie June. Everybody trying to sleep in the house hears the sad song and it brings up good and bad memories.

Neil and Margaret get married. Over at Margaretís place they have a reception to which lots of people come. Neil and Margaret drive out to look over the ocean. Neil has bought the piece of land there on which he will build a home.

A siren goes off. Margaret goes to the cemetery to talk to her father and brother. Carrying a long board, Neil starts to enter the small cemetery. Margaret goes a little crazy screaming at him donít, donít. She doesnít want him to come into the cemetery because she interprets this as an omen of Neilís death. She asks him to promise to stay away from the cemetery.

Thereís at strike at the mine. Uncle Angus tells Neil: "The company will never go for more safety regulations. All they care about is money."

Marilyn tells Jimmy that her father says that the strike was started by communists. Jimmy says what else would her father say since heís the mine manager? They start kissing.

At home Neil starts teasing Jimmy in front of the family by reading some poetry that Jimmy wrote concerning his relationship with a girl. Jimmy tries to get it back from Neil, but Neil is too consumed with laughter to let Jimmy take it from him. Margaret tells Neil to give it back to Jimmy, but he still laughs on. Jimmy leave the house. The only one who can stop him is Uncle Angus who is very stern with the big man demanding that Neil return the poem to Jimmy.

Uncle Angus talks to Jimmy down by the ocean. He says that now and then he will bring some "pop" (beer) to the boy. But, he warns, pop can really give a man a big pot belly which is bad. Jimmy tells Uncle: "They got you coming and going." Angus replies: "Yes they do, boy. Manís got to squeeze in between the coming and the going."

Margaret is very mad at Neil. She calls him a stupid bastard and says he only thinks about himself. In fact, Neil didnít even notice that mother drove away from her own house. She adds: "Do you think we would make by if Angus wasnít helping out?"

At work Neil is let go because the family cousin has now arrived from Shanghai.

Neil rows Margaret out into the ocean. She tells Neil that Number 11 tunnel is below them. This is where her father and brother died. After awhile, she tells Neil to start rowing again because if they stay too long, they will pull her under into the mine and keep her there.

Neil shows Margaret the house he built for her. Soon the whole family comes out to visit the new house. They carry grandfather in on a sedan couch. Mom is reluctant to come in and is the last to get out of the pick-up truck that belongs to Angus.

Neil is over working at the home of an elderly woman cleaning the yard. When heís finished, he gets his money and tells the woman thank you and asks if she know anyone else who needs work done? She says sheíll let him know if something comes up.

Marilyn starts staying long hours over at the home of the Curries. Her father has to come get her and she says she doesnít want to go back so early. Dad insists, so she runs out the door and away from her father. Dad canít find her. He goes back in the house and tells Jimmy that he wants him to leave his daughter alone.

As soon as dad drives away, Marilyn rushes back into the house with a face that is very dirty from hiding in the coal bin. The family laugh at her appearance and Marilyn asks: "What?!"

Margaret has problems paying for her groceries now. She goes home and when putting away clothes finds a condom in Jimmyís room.

Jimmy and Marilyn make out in the remains of one of the old mine openings. They talk about getting engaged. They even hold a little marriage ceremony in the mine.

Neil comes home after a long day of picking potatoes. Margaret shows him the condom she found in Jimmyís top drawer. She now tells Neil that she wants him to start using condoms. She is worried about paying for a child. Neil asks if their economic situation is that bad and Margaret says yes.  This upsets Neil a great deal. He goes outside to play the bag pipes in the rain. The next morning when Margaret wakes up she goes downstairs to find Neil sitting at the table. She sees that he now has all the equipment used by a miner. She rushes back upstairs.  She packs her stuff in a suitcase and takes off walking. Neil calls for her to come back, but she yells: "I ainít going to live with no God damn miner."

Back home mom and daughter get into a little row. Mother mocks Margaret who told mom that Neil was going to be different. He wasnít going to be a miner. This infuriates Margaret who says that momís just a black buzzard buzzing around the dying and the dead. She adds that mom goes to all the mining funerals because it makes her feel good because it means the day of her getting to the top of the list for a widowís pension is getting closer and closer.  Mom fires back. "Youíre right. We feed off each other like buzzards. Thatís what theyíve done to us."

Jimmy goes down to the mining office to get a job. He demands to be given a job. The hiring man tells him to get out of here because heís not getting any job. And if Jimmy wants to know why, he should go ask his Uncle. So thatís what Jimmy does. Uncle explains, but Jimmy doesnít like what he hears.

Grandfather wonít let Margaret even touch him. She wanted to pound him on the back to clear his lungs, but he throws himself off his bed to avoid Margaret. Mother had to take over and pound on grandfatherís back. Margaretís feelings are hurt.  Grandfather gives mother a note telling mother to tell Margaret to go back with her husband. Mother starts laughing.

At night Margaret goes back to her husband, but the house is empty. She walks back home and tells her mother that the son-of-a-bitch is out drinking somewhere. Then Margaret looks into the living room and sees Neil sitting in a chair.  They talk outside. Margaret tells him that she is not going to his funeral. He tells Margaret that heís not going to die. She says sheís going home. So Neil says he guesses he will go along with her. Suit yourself, she says.

Jimmy goes over for the dance session with Marilyn, but her mother tells him the dancing is cancelled forever. Margaret sees him sulking around and asks him why does he look so unhappy? He says: "Happiness has been cancelled forever." He tells his sister that he is going to see Uncle Angus.

Angus is working too much overtime. When his payday comes around he only gets three cents. Apparently, the money all went to pay off his debt to the company store. He is pretty upset about it.

Jimmy is going into the mines. Mother fixes up her husbandís old clothes to fit Jimmy. As she works, she breaks down, slapping at Jim and telling him to just shut up. Now she really starts crying hard.

At night Neil walks Margaret over to the mining company. She sees the men going down into the pits. She gets to use the showers at the mine as the men work. She really enjoys the shower. She asks her husband how long will the hot water last? He tells her: "Forever." They hug and kiss under the shower.

Returning home the couple find Uncle Angus. For the first time in his life he is drunk. He asks Neil to get him some kerosene. He has something to burn back home. Neil tells him he should wait until he is sober.

The company store burns down while people grabs items from the store. People wonder how the fire started and then they see Angus up in the store loft. He falls out of the loft door, but is saved by landing on the men below him on the ground.

Mother is over at Margaretís house. Margaret shows her that Neil installed a toilet in a bathroom. The daughter is very proud and says that Neil is going install a telephone, but mother starts back in with all the negativity. She says good because that way she can learn immediately when her husband dies in the pits. Now Margaret has had it with mom and pushes her along down the stairs. She tells her mother to get out and never come back here.

Mother leaves her own home to go visit a relative. Margaret goes over to the house to take care of grandfather.

Margaret comes in to see grandfather who is having a real hard time breathing. She rushes over to him and gives him a couple of pats on the back, but then hears the mine siren go off.  Margaret tears off to the mines. Angus grabs her so she wonít go any closer to the recovery of the bodies. Angus is so upset that he canít even talk. He can only nod yes when Margaret asks if both her husband and Jim are dead?

Margaret asks some workers where are her men? They hang their heads low and donít want to answer. A manager finally says the men are over at Fraserís truck. She slowly walks over to look at the corpses under the blankets. She tells the driver to drive the bodies and her to her motherís house. The man says he canít. The bodies have to go to the hospital to be seen by a doctor. Margaret gets really angry and demands that he take her and the bodies to her motherís house where she will clean the bodies completely and then they will be transferred to the hospital by an ambulance and not by a half-broken-down truck.

So the driver drives Margaret and the bodies. All of a sudden, she remembers that she forgot all about grandfather. She bangs on the truck cab and demands that the driver stop. She rushes into the house and finds grandfather dead.  The driver and another man bring the bodies into the house and set them on the kitchen floor. When they finish Margaret tells them to get out. She moves the blankets down from around their heads.

Margaret literally starts cutting up the bodies.

The police come out to the house. There are a lot of people around it. Margaret comes out of the house and gets in the back seat of the police car. She tells the police to take her to the mental asylum because thatís where sheís going to end up anyway.

Doctors ask her is she removed her grandfatherís lungs? Yes, with the use of an anatomy book owned by her deceased husband. She took the lungs to show the doctors who said her grandfather was in too good of a shape to retire early. She also took Neilís lungs to show how good lungs look in comparison. Then she took Neilís tongue because she so loved to hear Neil speak. She took her brotherís penis because at his age, "it was the most important thing he had." The head doctor asks her what she has done with these different body pieces? Margaret does not answer the question.

Two years later. Margaret is let out of the mental asylum. She goes back to her motherís place. After that, she goes back to her own home by the ocean. She goes inside and says hello to her mother. Mom says basically hello and goodbye. She is going to live with her sister.

Again Margaret says she will take care of mother. Mother scoffs at the very idea. She asks what will happen to her body if she should drop dead? "Cut off my tits?" She leaves the house.

Alone Margaret attends to her house and the grounds. She has lots of jars filled with fluids. She writes labels fore each jar, such as penis and fingers.

Back to the present. Margaret steps out of the house to watch the scared vacationers rush out of there. As the car passes out to the highway, they see the sign: "Minerís Museum. Starts today. The Price of Coal." Margaret sits down outside on a rocking chair and rocks away the rest of the daylight and into the night.



This is as really good movie.  My wife and I watched it long before I starting writing about historical movies.  It has a great ending that is shocking.  We were both shocked.  The film tells the old story of the cruelty of the mine owners and their indifference to the health and survivability of their miners and their families.  We never see an actual mine owner, but the miners and their families tell the story themselves.  As mother MacNeil said, never marry a miner or you will live a horrid life and die unhappy.  It's good to be reminded how rough things were for the workers when the Industrial Revolution started.  We should all be grateful for the sacrifices (often involving loss of life) of the workers who worked so hard and long for justice for the workers.   Without the strikes and other industrial actions, the workers would still be not much better than work slaves. 

Helena Bonham Carter (as Margaret MacNeil) was great, while Clive Russell (as Neil Currie) and Kate Nelligan (Catherine MacNeil) were very good.  Also good was Kenneth Welsh (as Uncle Angus MacNeil).


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph.D.



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