When Martha's water breaks, everything suddenly goes out of hand. The couple came to an agreement with a midwife beforehand (as it was decided for Martha to have a home birth), but at the most inopportune time she's with another woman in labor and the replacement is sent — another midwife called Eva (Molly Parker). She keeps assuaging the mother-to-be about everything going exactly the way it should, but when the couple's daughter is eventually born, shows her concern about the slow rate of the baby's heartbeat. Some minutes in her parents' hands — and the newborn girl is dead.
The first apogee, which is quite self-evident, unfolds in the first part of the story when Martha's labor commences. At this very moment the personal tragedy of bringing into the world the child that you're going to lose almost immediately turns into an actual horror film: a 24-minute continuous shot of home birth shows Martha wandering around the apartment and moaning in pain. She's yet supported by Sean — by firstly caring and family-devoted Sean, who in the upshot will totally demean himself.
The second watershed moment is not that palpable, but doesn't pale into insignificance either. Already after losing their daughter, both Martha and Sean are shattered into little pieces, but if generally common grief brings people closer and helps them recuperate together, here everybody collects their shattered pieces on their own. Martha is trying to decide what to do with her daughter's corpse and if she has to press charges against the replaced midwife or not (in the latter case she's perseveringly forced by her mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) and it vastly complicates relationships between her and Martha annoyed by this obtrusiveness). Sean, by contrast, sees the only escape in sinking his distress in the ocean of booze, cigarettes and drugs. The only attempt to rescue their relationships from the total collapse — having sex — is an exemplary scene of the revelation: Martha is sincere in making their marriage work again, while Sean doesn't care about his wife's feelings showing only abusive aggression and making the whole action look like a rape.
Suffice it to say that Vanessa Kirby's skyrocketing career in recent years has been marked by a venturesome embodiment of women of intricate plight: from breathtaking young princess Margaret in the British series The Crown (2016 — present)
to disenchanted farm wife Tallie in in Kirby's upcoming project The World to Come (2020) (Our article about this film) that will soon be released on streaming services.
Though these heroines still have some common feelings to share with Martha, in Pieces of a Woman Vanessa Kirby's sterling acting talent reaches a new level making a stride towards physical disclosure on the screen. Dumbfounded by the biggest tragedy she could ever experience, Martha shrinks into her shell and now words aren't that meaningful to her. In both key scenes Kirby's moves are what matters the most, be it her body's reaction to the agony of pain or jittery humility to her husband's violent molestation.