Legal dramas have the difficult task of cutting down the law into lay-man’s terms, while trying to sound as authoritative as the verbose cases it seeks to emulate. Thankfully in On The Basis of Sex, complex arguments and jargon are delivered expertly by Felicity Jones in her turn as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in what is essentially a tax case will leave you with bated breath. Focusing on a brief snapshot of Ruth’s legal career we are taken through the decades from post-war America to the revolutionary 70s.
Starting with Ruth studying at Harvard Law School, she encounters sexism and paranoia from staff members and colleagues. None of this deters her at first but when Ruth tries to get a job – “how can a woman work and raise children?” is a common concern for the male-dominated legal profession. Arguments which would seem, in some quaters of today's society absurd, are the reality for Ruth.
Through all this Ruth is supported by her open-minded husband Marty (Armie Hammer), the pair work well off each other, there is a distinct respect between the two and palpable online chemistry. The actors are wonderfully cast, even down to the down-on-his-luck Charles Moritz, played by Chris Mulkey. The DVD includes a featurette on their relationship, including insight into the recipes Marty is often seen making on-screen. Ruth and Marty’s devotion to each other are tested early on when Marty is diagnosed with cancer, Ruth working her hardest to support him with his and her studies simultaneously.
After University and a bout of unemployment, Ruth relegates her career to becoming a lecturer, but when Marty stumbles upon a case that might be able to overturn the right to discriminate on the basis of sex, their future shifts into gear. After some convincing Ruth takes up the challenge to stand in front of the Court of Appeal.
On the Basis of Sex succinctly explains the legal arguments at play in her landmark case. It does well not to overburden the film with any of the other work Ruth has done, which can leave the film feeling small despite its momentous premise. However, a featurette on the DVD make some effort to delve into her legacy, which is worth following up.
The film excels in pointing out that the entrenchment of ideas predicated on bigotry and misogyny fall over in front of facts only when people are forced to consider that they might be wrong. Filled with injustices, On the Basis of Sex will leave you angry but also determined for change.
On the Basis of Sex is available now on Digital Download, DVD and Blu Ray.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.
Read our review of Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary RBG here.
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