The Rise of Whore Betsy [Simon King, USA, 2019]

Westerns are a notoriously masculine domain. Take 1973 hit My Name is Nobody [Tonino Valerii, USA], for example. Buried deep within the constant gunfire, smoky saloons and crusty cowboys, one woman has a speaking part as…a giggling prostitute. The Rise of Whore Betsy flips this tradition on its head by making a sex worker the main character, only this one isn’t laughing.

A tale of wrongdoing and revenge with a mysterious twist, Simon King’s short does well to wrestle an out-dated genre into new territory. The film begins with Eliza, a young orphaned girl, finding Betsy lying on the forest floor badly beaten and ready for dead. After being nursed back to health in Eliza’s hut, Betsy is ready to take revenge on behalf of them both.

The film’s key strength is the chemistry between the two leads. Both heroines in their own right, the blossoming affection and strength of the women is a welcome tonic to the frailty and frivolity with which female characters of the Wild West (and indeed, many other artistic genres) are often portrayed. The natural presence of Jennifer Sklias-Gahan and Sally-Anne Hunt, who play Betsy and Eliza respectively, adds to the success of their characters’ onscreen relationship.

The script does not shy away from the brutality of what men have done to Eliza and Betsy, openly discussing rape and violence in a matter of fact manner. Discussing sexual assault in such a stark and even casual manner effectively communicates the horror that women were (and still are) put through without revelling in gratuitous details. Moreover, the straightforwardness with which the protagonists talk about this issue suggests that this violence is not unusual, sadly a fact that remains true to this day.

While I’m sure many of us would have quite liked to see the gang of vicious abusers having their heads blown off by the two badass female leads, the short provides a more subtle, less gory end to the story. A bittersweet twist leaves Betsy heading back into the forest to fight alone. Although it is not abundantly clear why King chose to end the film in this way, a small portion of dialogue earlier in the film holds a clue. When telling Betsy about her deceased parents, Eliza says ‘I ain’t alone, they’re still with me […] and I’m with them’. Perhaps, as Betsy begins to disappear among the trees, she isn’t alone: Eliza and all the women she will avenge are with her, as she will be with those of the future.

The Rise of Whore Betsy gives the Western hope for a future. While the days of scuffles, shoot-outs and other manly japes at the frontier are thankfully over, telling the stories of the characters relegated to silence for far too long could allow this genre to flourish in a post-Weinstein world.


'The Rise of Whore Betsy' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.

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