From “North Country” to “Ebbing, Missouri” — 12 Years Ago Frances McDormand Played a Union Rep

By Evan Henerson

Anybody out there seen “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri?” If you haven’t, go. You’ll witness a bravura performance by Frances McDormand who plays Mildred Hays, a mother so angry and grief-stricken by her daughter’s rape and murder that she takes some unconventional vigilante-ish steps that set off a chain of events in the small town where she runs a gift shop.

McDormand is an Oscar winner and four-time nominee as well as an Emmy and Tony winner. (No Grammy yet, so as formidable a performance as she is, the lady is no EGOT). With nominations for both Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Golden Globe awards, McDormand’s practically a shoe-in for a fifth Oscar nominee for “Three Billboards…” If she wins, she will probably make Oscar history for the longest duration between Oscar victories. She nabbed her first Oscar for playing the pregnant sheriff Marge Gunderson in “Fargo” in 1996.

But for our purposes, we advise you to have a look at McDormand’s last Oscar-nominated role, 12 years ago in Niki Caro’s “North Country.” In that 2005 film, McDormand plays a union representative for a Minnesota Ironworkers local. The mine owner comes under fire after one of the workers, Josey Aimes (played by Charlize Theron), files a historic class action sexual harassment suit against the company.

The film, although partially fictionalized, was based on the 1984 Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines case and adapted from Clara Bingham’s book “Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law.”

“North Country” can be tough to watch. Caro pulls no punches depicting the brutal treatment to which Aimes and her fellow female mine workers are subjected. McDormand’s character, Glory Hodge, is pretty much the only woman in the film who is not treated like garbage. Needless to say, the subject matter is alarmingly timely.

McDormand and Theron both received Oscar nominations for their work in this powerful but somewhat overlooked film. Check it out.

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