- Meryl Streep as Karen Silkwood
- Kurt Russell as Drew Stephens
- Cher as Dolly Pelliker
- Craig T.Nelson as Winston
- Diana Scarwid as Angela
Based on the story of Karen Silkwood, a worker at a nuclear power plant in Oklahoma who died mysteriously whilst on her way to meet with a journalist, she was presumed to have had evidence regarding violations in the workplace. Directed by Mike Nichols, Silkwood emerges as a taut and effective, character driven drama full of fine performances.
Karen Silkwood works at Kerr-McGee power plant in Oklahoma with her boyfriend Drew Stephens and lesbian roommate Dolly Pelliker. Karen is a tough, mini-skirted, gum chewing worker who has a turbulent personal life. One day in the midst of her mundane shift, Karen is contaminated and is hosed down in a harrowing shower scene. Aware that she will suffer a slow and painful death, she investigates the plant for further evidence of negligence and calls for union. Through her work and determination, her relationships with others become strained as she strives for the truth and justice.
As well as being somewhat of a biopic, the film is also an interesting character study of one normal women thrown into an extraordinary situation. In the title role, Meryl Streep embodies the determination, strength and defiance of this woman.As the story for her struggle for truth is told, the audience sympathises with her as a result of her refusal to back down. She is offered strong support from Kurt Russell and a low-key performance from singer turned actress Cher. Both of them surprised me with their effectiveness towards their characters. Cher especially caught my attention in the role that got her noticed as an actress; as Dolly she is the wise-cracking best friend but a melancholy pervades her quietly expressive portrayal. She is barely recognizable when clad in dowdy clothing and hardly any make-up really looking the part, but her subtle emotionally earnest performance adds to this.
The main themes are the struggle for justice and business corruption, but I also thought that fear was a theme expressed throughout a lot of Silkwood. The title character fears for her life because of her dangerous work and fears that no one will listen ,Drew fears losing Karen to both the contamination and her constant union work and the lonely Dolly fears losing her friends who she considers to be her own family. There is also a reference in the contamination sensor as each worker walks through it dreading the screaming of an alarm to confirm they’ve been what the others referer to as ‘cooked’.
Although the film unravels at a slow and thoughtful pace, it is still compulsive viewing as we watch Karen’s crusade becoming more vocal and her voice being heard by authority. Only in the last hour does the film slightly lull in places, but overall the slow unravelling works to show us the extent of what is happening. Even if the story doesn’t interest or grip you or the pace seems to last forever, the fine performances from the cast, especially Streep, Russell and Cher will keep you watching until the end. A moving and engaging film, made more moving due to the basis of the source material.