Film / The Burning Bed

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A 1984 Made-for-TV Movie starring the late Farrah Fawcett as a battered wife who kills her husband, played by Paul Le Mat. The film is an adaptation of the book by the same name, written by Faith McNulty.

The book is based on the true story of Francine Hughes and her killing of her abusive husband after over a decade of extensive domestic abuse at his hands.

Some tropes appearing in the film include:

  • Adult Fear: When Mickey, who's shown to be a physically abusive alcoholic, comes in the night and takes the children from Francine; anyone who's been through a child-custody conflict or in an abusive relationship that has children can feel Francine's fear.
  • The Alcoholic: Mickey blame his abusive behaviour on his drinking, and promises he won't hit Francine anymore when he vows to stop drinking.
  • Asshole Victim: No one will miss Mickey, who abuses his entire family and rapes his wife, all that much when he's killed.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Despite the black eyes, Francine looks pretty good throughout her ordeal.
  • Berserk Button: Mickey has many, but they usually involve some perceived infidelity.
  • Blatant Lies: Flossie (Mickey's mother)'s testimony.
    "Never, have I ever seen any of my sons strike one of their wives."
  • The Charmer: Mickey is this, at first. It doesn't last long.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: When Francine buys a pretty new outfit, Mickey claims he doesn't want anyone else looking at her.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: A heartbreaking in-universe example. During one scene, the Hughes children are sitting listlessly on their beds while their father beats their mother.
  • Destroy the Abusive Home: Francine sets fire to the home, and Mickey.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Many examples. Mickey slaps Francine across the face in front of a room full of people because she went into town without his permission.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Francine divorces Mickey, but it doesn't last long.
  • Domestic Abuse: The couple's relationship is one of the most well-known examples, and possibly the Trope Codifier. It was pretty shocking in its day, although it presents many well-known Abuse tropes.
  • Flash Back: The story is told in a series of flashbacks from the "present day" of 1977, back to the start of Francine's relationship with Mickey in 1963, through their courtship and early marriage, then the deterioration into violence.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: While they actually have a relationship, the first section of the film is presented very quickly from the time Mickey and Francine meet until their wedding day, so it feels this way.
  • Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Francine's lawyer is portrayed as the better lawyer, representing the victim. Anyone representing or defending Mickey is shown in a negative way.
  • Hollywood Law: Strongly averted. The events of the film and the trial are realistically portrayed.
  • House Fire: How Francine finally ends her terrible marriage. After Mickey beats her, forces her to quit school and burn her textbooks, and then rapes her, she tells her kids to get their coats. Then she pours gasoline around the bed and sets her husband on fire.
  • In Medias Res: The film starts with the fire.
  • Insanity Defense: A very well-known example. Hughes was acquitted. It's shown in the movie that a self-defense plea probably wouldn't convince a jury, so her lawyer suggests a plea of temporary insanity.
  • Kick the Dog: Francine's story of how Mickey treated the kids' pregnant dog cements him as a terrible person.
  • Let's Wait a While: Francine tries, but Mickey puts so much pressure on her, she eventually gives in. She was only 16 when they got married, so her desire to wait and maybe finish high school is justified.
  • Marital Rape License: Francine only agrees to sleep with a drunken, impotent Mickey because if she doesn't, he'll start beating her again.
  • Nightmare Face: During the last sequence, when Mickey is advancing upon Francine, he looks terrifying.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Zigzagged. The social worker Francine speaks to tells her only the "head of the household" can apply for social assistance. He softens when she takes off her sunglasses, revealing a terrible black eye. Then when Francine doesn't have the filing fee, he pays it for her. The other people she asks for help are sympathetic, but can't do anything to keep Mickey away without punishing Francine.
  • Police Are Useless: Not only can they not arrest Mickey unless they catch him in the act of hitting Francine, one of the cops testifies against her.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: With how long Mickey gets away with his abuse, it does make you wonder.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Francine. Yes, she brutally (and painfully) murders her husband, but after all the abuse she's suffered at his hands its hard to feel anything but glad that she does so.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: While awaiting the verdict, Francine sits this way in a chair, smoking a cigarette.
  • Virginity Flag: After she and Mickey have sex the first time, Francine asks if she looks any different, or if anyone can tell.
  • What Does She See in Him?: And how. After his wears off soon after they begin their relationship, Mickey has pretty much no redeeming qualities for Francine to stay for; the only thing keeping her with him is fear, lack of other options, and concern for their children.
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