This off-puttingly dreary Anglo-Canadian co-production interweaves the stories of a group of prostitutes working in a bordello in a remote Midwestern town circa 1870. Among the working girls employed by madam Annie (Brenda Fricker) are: Nettie (Kelly McGillis), who also performs abortions to help support her own child; Ada (Anna Mottram), who's too old for the customers; the beautiful and ambitious Georgie (Lisa Jakub); newcomer Katya (Meret Becker), a former dancer who claims she can speak to the dead; and Eileen (Bronagh Gallagher),an Irish woman who's lost all her family.
Inspired by the 1956 Kenji Mizoguchi film Street Of Shame, director Jon Sanders and co-writer Anna Mottram refuse to sentimentalise the existence of their characters. We see the boredom, the sporadic violence, the despair and the lack of viable economic alternatives, as well as the powerful sense of camaraderie among the women.
Unfortunately Painted Angels is also soporifically paced, dramatically inert and visually cramped - the rugged Saskatchewan locations are all but ignored in favour of dimly lit interiors. The performances are reliably sturdy, but the treatment of the material seems more suited to the theatre than the cinema.