On the Basis of Sex (2018). Film review of the gender equality legal drama

image film basis of sex felicity jones


image four star rating very good lots to enjoy

Film review, by Jason Day, of On the Basis of Sex, the drama about female lawyer Ruth Bader-Ginsburg who tackles the laws that prejudice women by tackling a law that prejudices men. Starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer.

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Young aspirant lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is one of very few female students enrolled at the otherwise male-dominated Harvard College.

After graduating, she notices that a large number of US laws actively and openly discriminate against women.

Aiming to overturn centuries of gender inequality but knowing she will lose if she starts with a female plaintiff, she takes on the case of a male caregiver who has been denied certain tax advantages because he is a man.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

On Basis Sex poster

Reason is the soul of all law.

Motto on a woodcut in the US Supreme Court.

I love a film that opens with its ‘big cinematic moment’ and On the Basis of Sex has a real whopper.

A number of very tall, strapping young male students in ultra smart suits march toward their lectures. The music accompanying this is a rousing, almost Nazi, processional march tune, the lyrics stating there is a “Victory today!”

In amongst them, almost lost amidst their mighty shoulders, is teeny-tiny, Ginsburg (Jones, who is thoroughly forthright throughout) striding into ‘academic battle’, the song paving the way for the challenges that lie ahead for her.

The song is a juicy addition to the soundtrack the aptly titled ‘Ten Thousand Men of Harvard’. An obvious choice but one that sets the scene for the viewer.

Later, just in case anyone missed this blissfully succinct symbolism, that grand old goat of legal dramas Sam Waterston (Law and Order) recites to his undergrad students the qualities that make the perfect Harvard produced lawyer. Ginsburg looks over her shoulders to see only one woman on either side as he says:

He is intelligent…he is mindful…he is protective…


Jones gives an unimpeachable performance as Ginsburg. Yes, she looks nothing like the real life woman she portrays, but the spirit of the woman, her dogged persistence, her inexhaustible energies (she had a husband, two children as well as several facets to her career), her rapier sharp intellect and super human drive for achieving gender equality come across so very strongly in an actress who has proved her versatility and mettle.

Jones has been something of a slow-burn mega-talent of British acting of this past decade. Whether slumming it in fair-to-middling Brit-coms like Chalet Girl (2011), reaching for critical superlatives as Stephen Hawking’s first wife in The Theory of Everything (2014) and nabbing blockbuster in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), her rise to acting excellence has been long and checkered.

As with most legal dramas, the climatic courtroom scene allows Jones to fully spread her acting wings. But rest assured, there is more to come from this shining star of UK cinema.

As her husband Martin, Armie Hammer has an imposing physical presence but never dominates Jones or stands in her shadow. It’s a testament to his acting prowess that he commendably manages to be ‘out there’, take a back seat but always impress. It helps that this duo has great screen chemistry 0- they manage to make tax law seem sexy.

A fitting postscript sees the real Ruth Bader-Ginsburg (then 85) ambling around Washington, morphing from her younger, cinematic self, perfectly moving fiction to reality.

See the official website for more.

Cast & credits

Director: Mimi Leder. 2hrs (120mins). Amblin Partners/Participant Media/Robert Cort Productions. (12a)

Producers: Robert W. Cort, Jonathan King.
Writers: Daniel Stiepleman.
Camera: Michael Grady.
Music: Mychael Danna.
Sets: Nelson Coates.

Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates, Cailee Spaeny, Jack Reynor, Stephen Root, Chris Mulkey, Gary Werntz.


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