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Miss Virginia


Stars: Uzo Aduba, Matthew Modine, Aunjanue Ellis, Niles Fitch, Adina Porter, Nadji Jeter, Vanessa Williams, Leopold Manswell

Director: R J Daniel Hanna

Aduba, an Afro-American actress new to me (although you'll recognise her if you're fan of Orange is the New Black) gives a powerhouse performance as a single mom in 2003 who becomes a campaigner for better educational opportunities for children of poorer backgrounds in this emotive true story, which milks the surefire market for stories of triumphs against overwhelming adversity.

She plays Virginia Walden, a single mom in a deprived quarter of Washington DC whose artistically talented 15-year-old son James (a sympathetic performance by Fitch) is suspended from his school for persistent truancy. She transfers him to a $3300-a-term private school where he flourishes, as his mother takes menial jobs in a desperate attempt to meet the fees, including scrubbing floors in the chambers of state representative Lorraine Townsend (Ellis), who seems to be passionate about education and despises rival congressman Cliff Williams.

When Townsend declares that people don't care about their children's education, as proven by Williams' attempts to explore the problem in another state, Virginia recognises her employer's feet of clay for what they are and makes a beeline for Williams, buttonholing him in a corridor and confronting him on a golf course. Fired by her passion, he files an Education Incentive Act, which could go towards addressing the issue.

Meanwhile, Virginia has failed to keep up the school fee payments and James, dropping back to his ghetto school, reverts to his old ways, becoming involved with street-corner drug dealers.

Such a subject does indeed carry its own emotional charge, although the largely lightweight script could have cut deeper and made events more inspirational. As it is, the film rarely touches us until the end, and even a tragic death is rather muffed in the direction. Its characters are light and dark and nothing much in between. Nice to see Modine, now a silver-haired 60, again, though, having fun here as the cavalier but combatative congressman who proves Virginia's unexpected ally.

David Quinlan

USA 2019. UK Distributor: Signature. Colour by Efilm.
103 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 05 Oct 2020