Redeeming Love’s Abigail Cowen and Tom Lewis on Film's Message of Accepting Love After Abuse
Redeeming Love is a story about power and – as you can probably guess – redemption and love. The movie, based on the 1850s-set book by Francine Rivers, is anything but straightforward. At the centre of the story is Angel (Abigail Cowen), a prostitute living in a brothel that everyone in her town Paradise is after – including out-of-town farmer Michael (Tom Lewis), who is persistent in his quest to marry her. The movie takes an unfiltered look at life as a sex worker during that time, abusive brothel management, and allowing yourself to be loved no matter what you’ve been through. POPSUGAR spoke to Redeeming Love stars Cowen, Lewis, Nina Dobrev (Mae), Eric Dane (Duke), and Famke Janssen (Duchess) about the emotional journey of their characters.
Cowen’s character is far from a damsel in distress, but she did need someone to challenge her perception of power. “Her power was in the brothel. Her power was when she was with these men. It was when she felt most in control. It’s the one place that she felt most powerful. But it was also the place that she was the most powerless,” she says. Janssen’s character similarly searches for power as a woman in control of other women while in a male-dominated industry under the jurisdiction of Duke, who “felt like he was untouchable,” Dane says. Janssen notes that the Duchess “is trying to survive in a time where it’s very difficult to survive, period.” She continues, “I think she probably did the best she could under the circumstances. . . I think there would’ve been a better way, but I think she probably did the best she could under the circumstances.”
“It’s one of those stories of how someone can go through so much pain and self-hatred and self-loathing and all these awful experiences, and yet still have strength at the end of it.”
Angel eventually starts to rethink her definition of what it means to be empowered. “I think that this shift happens when she’s with Michael . . . Michael ultimately gives her this freedom . . . he allows her to go, he allows her to make her choices and gives her free will. And I think that she ultimately ends up finding her power in that,” Cowen explains. Lewis then adds, “This teenage love that they have for each other, even though they’re living in this horrendous time period where all these awful things are happening . . . they find each other throughout it and are each other’s rock.”
Lewis continues: “It’s one of those stories of how someone can go through so much pain and self-hatred and self-loathing and all these awful experiences, and yet still have strength at the end of it, and resilience, and come out the other side as a stronger person, which [Angel] does.” Dobrev similarly touches on the relentlessness of faith, adding: “It felt like a cautionary tale: an important story about love and love prevailing. [It highlighted] the things that you have to go through to get to that ultimate love story.” Dane adds, “There’s overall themes of redemption, acceptance, love, tolerance. You’re going to walk away with those automatically.”
Redeeming Love has a few hard-to-watch scenes. It’s also a film that unfortunately shows the reality of women throughout history in abusive situations. “I was very shocked at the rawness of it all and how the story didn’t shy away from anything. It showed the good, the bad, the ugly, and I loved that,” Cowen shares.
Dobrev’s character passed down generational trauma after having been in an abusive relationship. The same men who wreaked havoc in Mae’s life did the same to Angel. “[The movie shows] the psychological impacts that women could have from traumatic experiences and abuse. . . A lesson to be learned [is] that no matter what happens, no matter how hard it is, it’s never too late to start over,” Dobrev says, with Cowen adding, “You are not your abuse.”
The movie is set in Gold-Rush era California, but the themes aren’t dated. “These experiences are happening to women all around the world now,” Lewis says. “We think, ‘Oh, there were brothels like this back in the 1800s,’ but there are many that happen now.” Redeeming Love is in theaters beginning on Friday, Jan 21.