Film review: The Homesman

A frontier woman’s work is never done in Tommy Lee Jones’ bleak and compelling feminist western.

Not only does a mid-19th century miss have to cook and clean, she is also expected to pretty herself to attract a surly suitor to waltz her down the aisle in a society where men and pistols hold sway.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Homesman. Pictured: Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones. See PA Feature FILM Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout/Entertainment One/Dawn Jones. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Film Reviews.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Homesman. Pictured: Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones. See PA Feature FILM Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout/Entertainment One/Dawn Jones. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Film Reviews.

In the case of The Homesman’s unconventional, spunky heroine, she also has to till the land, manage finances and compensate for a town full of cowardly, incompetent husbands, who put their own needs ahead of the women by their side.

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) owns a ranch and a sizeable plot of land on the outskirts of a close-knit Nebraska community.

Suitors repeatedly reject her because they consider her ugly, but Cuddy continues to plough her own furrow.

Three local women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) show signs of insanity and Reverend Alfred Dowd (John Lithgow) proposes that one of the husbands should take the wives to a mission in Iowa run by Altha Carter (Meryl Streep).

When the gutless spouses fail to get behind the plan, Cuddy volunteers to drive the wagon instead. “You’re as good a man as any man hereabouts,” Reverend Dowd compliments her.

Swank is breathtaking in a textured role that should be rewarded with an Oscar nomination next year, and she is strongly supported by the writer-director.

Jones doesn’t shy away from the horrors faced by women, catalysed by nightmarish scenes of rape and infanticide.