LEE | United Kingdom | 2023 | 116m | English, French
Starring: Kate Winslet, Alexander Skarsgård, Andy Samberg
Directed By: Ellen Kuras
The story begins in the South of France, 1938, where Lee Miller (Kate Winslet) is vacationing with her dearest and closest friends who are artists, poets, and confidants. A former model and subject of the avant-garde photographer Man Ray, Lee, now tired of being viewed through a lens by men, is focused exclusively on her own work as a photographer. The threat of war looms and almost overnight everything about their daily lives changes completely. In the midst of the blitz, Lee follows the love of her life, Roland Penrose (Alexander Skarsgård), to London, where she seeks out work as a photographer for British Vogue. Frustrated by the limitations of documenting life on the home front, Lee gains a US war accreditation and heads off to Europe. Alone. After battling her way through the siege of Saint-Malo, Lee joins forces with close friend and fellow photographer David E. Scherman (Andy Samberg). Lee and Scherman capture the liberation of Paris. They sneak into Hitler’s abandoned Munich home — where Scherman captures Miller bathing in der Führer’s tub. They are among the first photographers to enter the camps at Buchenwald and Dachau on the day of the liberation, where Lee crafts a series of horrifying, urgent images that will sear themselves into history. Lee lived her life at full throttle, for which she paid a huge emotional price. Her ferocious search for truth lifted the veil on a deeply buried secret within her own life.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
RATING 4 out of 5
Lee is led by an excellent performance from Kate Winslet as the titular character, combined with a surprisingly strong dramatic supporting turn from Andy Samberg and a compelling story that provides a different narrative perspective to the Second World War, making for an unique and powerful cinema experience.
Every year, there are always a handful of films released that revolve around the Second World War. While it is a truly dark spot in human history with the atrocities that were committed and millions of deaths that occurred, there are so many interesting stories to be told during this period of history. Whether it be biopics about specific individuals and their experience during the war, films about the Holocaust or action fuelled dramas, there are countless stories to tell. Premiering last year at the Toronto International Film Festival and still awaiting release, Lee was one of the many films set during the Second World War that premiered during the fall festival circuit, with this film telling the story of Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, a model turned photojournalist who chronicled the events of World War II for Vogue Magazine. It’s a different story than we have often seen set during this period of history, as normally such films focus on important political or military figures, the holocaust or specific battles during the war, but it's a refreshing and powerful film bolstered by a strong cast led by the always incredible Kate Winslet.
The photographs that Lee Miller captured during the Second World War are world famous, capturing nurses healing wounded soldiers, the liberation of Paris, the concentration camps in Germany, and the unforgettable photographs of Adolf Hitler’s apartment just after he committed suicide. The film chronicles Miller’s time during the Second World War, recounted by an older Miller. During the first two acts of the films, we see what Miller underwent to become a female photojournalist during the war, the barriers that the government and army put in her way as they were afraid to have a woman in the dangerous sections of the war, her friendship with American photojournalist David Scherman, and her early days in the war covering the events in France. Though, the film saves the emotionally haunting material for the final act where Miller goes to Germany, visiting the concentration camp and the end of the war. The result is a powerful final act that not only showcases Miller’s impact on sharing information with the world about what happened during the war and the legacy of her photography, but the horrors of the Second World War and of the concentration camps through the filmmaking team’s recreation of them using Miller’s photography as reference points.
With Winslet in the lead role, it comes as no surprise that she delivers an excellent performance as Miller. Winslet gives a fearless performance, capturing the determination, skill and perseverance of this world renowned photojournalist, that will no doubt generate some awards buzz for her upon the film’s release. Andrea Riseborough once again proves herself as a chameleon of an actress, this time unrecognizable as Audrey Withers, Miller’s editor at Vogue during the war, delivering a strong performance of this delightful individual who champions Miller and Miller’s work throughout the film. The rest of the supporting cast is not short of star power with the likes of Alexander Skarsgård, Marion Cotillard, Josh O’Connor, Noémie Merlant, and James Murray, all of whom give good performances in their limited amount of screentime, but it is Andy Samberg who gives the standout performance as David Scherman. Samberg is best known for his comedic work, but he pulls a complete one eighty and delivers his first dramatic performance in Lee. There is no denying that his comedic talents help to bring to life the spirited Scherman, but he shares all of his scenes with Winslet and the two of them become an unstoppable force. Needless to say, we need Samberg to take on more dramatic roles going forward.
Being a war based film, it comes as no surprise that the film has strong costume, production and sound design, each working in tangent with each other to transport the audiences back to 1940s Europe in great detail. And as always, Alexandre Desplate has composed a powerful musical score that captures the emotions of the events being depicted on screen, especially during the emotionally charged final act which only increases the chances that the audience will find themselves moved to tears by the film’s conclusion.
While you may not know her name before going into Lee, there is no doubt that you have seen Elizabeth “Lee” Miller’s photography of the Second World War at some point during your life, and you won’t forget her name after viewing the film. Honouring both her legacy and the images she captured during the Second World War, Ellen Kuras’s biopic of Lee Miller features strong performances from the entire cast led by the excellent pairing of Kate Winslet and Andy Samberg, allowing Lee to bring to life Elizabeth “Lee” Miller’s life during the Second World War in a beautiful and moving film.