noun: 1. An elderly woman of stately dignity, especially one of elevated social position. 2. A woman who holds some title or property from her deceased husband, especially the widow of a king, duke, etc.
“Sometimes you have to be a high-riding bitch to survive. Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold onto.”
When I read the definition of dowager, the first image that popped into my head was Vera Donovan from Dolores Claiborne. Both classical British actress Judy Parfitt, who played Vera, and the always stellar Kathy Bates, who played the title character, should have walked away with Oscars for their performances. Yet amazingly, neither was even nominated.
Next to Shawshank Redemption, this mystery/thriller from 1995 is my favorite Stephen King adaptation. The relationship between the two women is the heart of the movie, but don’t you dare call it a chick flick. Married to an abusive drunk, Dolores goes to work as a maid for the privileged, demanding, at times cruel tyrant, Vera Donovan. Upon hearing that Dolores’s husband has been molesting their teenage daughter Selena, Vera suggests to Dolores that, “Husbands die every day, Dolores. Why… one is probably dying right now while you’re sitting here weeping. They die… and leave their wives their money. I should know, shouldn’t I? Sometimes Delores, an accident can be an unhappy woman’s best friend.”
It seems that murder is being encouraged here in a very glib manner, but there’s nothing light about it. Vera’s heartbreak and rage burn bright in Parfitt’s icy blue eyes. And when Dolores finally does the deed, the film becomes even darker (literally). The death is painful, messy, and nearly destroys the thing Dolores was so desperate to save – her relationship with her daughter.
And while Dolores and Vera’s relationship evolves from one of hatred and domination to one of love and friendship, by the time these women really care about each other, Vera is such a old wreck, marinating in her own fluids, as Dolores puts it, the greatest act of caring Vera can ask of her friend is to commit another homicide. The fact that Dolores would oblige her makes this a wonderfully complex, gritty and totally absorbing movie.
“And remember! Eclipse at five!”