Though transgender folks is thought of something relatively new, it is centuries old. There have always been people who have not felt comfortable in the bodies they were born in and sought to live their lives as their true gender. Director/screenwriter/actress Whitney Hamilton examines an example of just that in the film Union.
Initially released in 2018, Union is still trying to get some eyes on it. It deserves just that because of its rather unique subject matter. At the beginning we read that over 400 women fought disguised as men on both sides of the U.S. Civil War. A completely hidden aspect of that terrible conflict. North vs. South. Countryman vs. countryman. A battle over a human rights issue. The South wanting to retain the right to slavery.
War broke out in 1861 and a woman takes on the identity of her dead brother in order to fight as a soldier in the war. Now known as Henry (Whitney Hamilton – Spontaneous Human Combustion, My Brother’s War), they meet and fall in love with a war widow who saved their life, named Virginia (Virginia Newcomb – Peacock, Machete Joe).
After being shot, a delirious Henry vows to return to the woman he loves. Indians find Henry and after realizing he is a two spirit, the Indians hide Henry to keep them safe from the Union army from the North. Henry is desperate to get back when he is told that Virginia will have to marry an old man she does not love in order to keep her farm.
Once that happens, the two elope and are married. Keeping Henry’s secret hidden becomes more and more difficult and he has something from his past which is haunting him. Everyone is in jeopardy.
This is a largely unexplored subject especially for a film depicting this era. Obviously it is an era and story which Hamilton is very passionate about. Not her first film from the era, it took 3.5 years to film. A total labour of love. Trying to remain and look as true to the era as it can, Union was shot in historic homes and on different battlefields in Alabama and Pennsylvania. Hamilton has definitely put plenty of time and effort into the making of the film. Research has been extensive; she has attempted to get as much right as she could. Costume and sets are great.
A downside is the length of the film. At 2 hours 15 minutes it sems interminable at times. This is accentuated by the languid pace throughout of the film.
The film is now available on HBO ppv, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes.