Radium Girls Movie Review


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Based on a true story and set in 1920’s New Jersey, “Radium Girls” is a 2018 film starring Joey King and Abby Quinn as dial painters. At the time, the 1889 discovery of radium continued to captivate the U.S. and was incorporated into an array of products. 

The two main characters, Josephine and Bessie, are sisters who work at a clock factory where they hand paint numbers onto watch dials with radium-based paint to make them glow in the dark. 

The factory workers were advised to lick their brushes for precise painting, noting that radium is healthy and safe for human consumption. Seeing as radium was a fairly new discovery, not all the dangers were known about the eye-catching element. Workers began to fall severely ill and losing teeth as their bodies deteriorated. 

Confusion sat heavily in the minds of the dial painters as more and more coworkers became ill. When Josephine fell sick, she went to a doctor. His diagnosis was controversial and entirely inaccurate. 

Josephine and Bessie recalled that their older sister, Mary, recieved the same diagnosis before she died from her illness. With her body exhumed, a conclusion of radium poisoning was finally reached. The two girls knew the doctor was not telling the truth and pushed for further information from a lawyer who covered cases of a similar nature. 

Shocking correlations between sickness, death and radium were made as the sisters recruited help from coworkers. The clock factory played a major part in keeping vital health information about radium from being published.

As secrets were exposed, the women banded together to fight in a court case against their employer. After a brutal case, the Radium Girls prevailed, but not without great cost. Yes, they finally informed the public about radium poisoning and how deadly it is but not before dozens of women who worked at the clock factory died. 

The movie revealed shocking facts about the Radium Girls including, “If you place a Geiger Counter over the grave of a Radium Girl, it will click for a thousand years.” This quote put into perspective just how radiated these women’s bodies were. 

Nonetheless, they fought through radium poisoning long enough to establish their names in history forever as courageous, inspiring women. 

The movie prompted me to research the real Radium Girls, leaving me with one critique: I wish directors would have focused solely on the women’s stories instead of trying to encompass the era’s themes at the time. The Radium Girls deserve their stories to be told as descriptively and accurately as possible. After all, they undoubtedly saved the lives of others with their discoveries.

Rating: 8/10