(Credit: Netflix)

Films

Is Netflix’s ‘The Power of the Dog’ based on a true story?

Jane Campion’s newest film The Power of the Dog marks Benedict Cumberbatch’s Netflix Original debut. Having released on the streaming service on December 1, 2021, the film has already received plenty of applause at the various film festivals it premiered in, even winning Campion the Best Director Award at the Venice Film Festival

Following her classics such as An Angel At My Table and Piano, Campion, who is a force to be reckoned with, made her return after a long hiatus following her 2009 film Bright Star. The New Zealand filmmaker’s latest addition is an added gem to Netflix’s already burgeoning content of spectacular Originals from the likes of Alfonso Cuaron, Ramin Bahrani, Charlie Kaufman and more. 

The film stars an ensemble cast, namely Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee and more, and is based on Thomas Savage’s eponymous 1967 novel. It is set in a Montana ranch in the 1920s, owned by wealthy rancher brothers, Phil and George Burbank. 

With dramatic twists, the film is a commentary on darker themes like misogyny, bullying and internalised homophobia. It also marks a homosexual reawakening as one of the tormenters, the demonic Phil Burbank, played by Cumberbatch, gradually and unexpectedly falls in love. 

While the film is not based on a true story, it is adapted from Savage’s novel that comprises a lot of elements from the author’s personal experiences. The author had found a creative outlet in the novel as he detailed how he felt extremely out of place amidst the Montana ranchers around him. 

While talking about Savage’s life, Campion has spoken of how she remained faithful to the source. She said, “Thomas Savage moved to a ranch with his mother, which is the story which is really told in the film as well, and the brother of the man that his mother married was talented — like, great chess player and, you know, went to Yale, et cetera — but also, like, a really hardened cowboy and terrible bully.” In the film, Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Peter serves as a fictionalised form of Savage. 

Savage, who passed away in 2003, is believed to be a closeted gay man while other readers like to think that the novel is Savage’s intimate exploration of homosexuality and homophobia. 

Campion also included the detail about Thomas’ alcoholic mother in the film while maintaining the authenticity of the 1920s ranch on her film. 

With a spectacular cast, brilliant performances and a wonderful premise that also touches on the romanticisation of cowboys and toxic masculinity, The Power of the Dog is a brilliant analysis of powerplay and sexuality that only a filmmaker of Campion’s stature could deliver.