The Wonder, 2022.
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Starring Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Niamh Algar, Elaine Cassidy, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, Dermot Crowley, David Wilmot, Josie Walker, and Brían F. O’Byrne.
A tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.
Canadian-Irish novelist’s Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her 2010 novel Room proved a smash hit in 2016, earning Brie Larson the Best Actress Oscar, and now the latest of Donoghue’s novels to get the big screen treatment is her 2016 novel The Wonder with Florence Pugh in the lead role. The film sees nurse Elizabeth Wright (Pugh) journeying from England to rugged rural Ireland in the 19th Century. She is tasked with observing an eleven year old girl who claims not to have eaten in four months, taking turns with a nun to make observations and feedback to a committee.
The film is largely as eerie as its subject matter would suggest, taking inspiration from Victorian-era fasting girls. The film is directed by A Fantastic Woman’s Sebastián Lelio, having won an Oscar for his earlier film. It is a tense, haunting film with a real gothic sensibility, making the most of its foreboding landscape, depicting the push and pull between religion and science, at a time when religion still widely held sway in Ireland.
The Irish landscape really excels at capturing both a beautiful but almost haunting quality, and the same description can perhaps be used to describe Kíla Lord Cassidy’s Anna O’Donnell. Ari Wegner, whose work on The Power of the Dog was such a standout, here crafts one of the most exquisitely looking films of the year perfectly complementing the mood. Matthew Herbert’s score has an almost ethereal quality to it and a haunting, piercing beauty, marking the shift in Mrs Wright’s mood as she begins to feel she is the only one seeing sense.
Pugh, as we’ve become accustomed to of late, is a true marvel, capturing the required stoicism and a sense of sadness beneath the surface and a determination to do what she feels is right. The supporting cast isn’t short of stars either with Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Niamh Algar and Dermot Crowley all doing fine turns with largely small roles. Outside of the two leads the most prominent supporting part is Tom Burke’s William Byrne, a journalist interested in the girl’s story who forges a close bond with Wright, the pair showing fine chemistry and Burke only furthering his strong arthouse credentials of late.
The Wonder’s slow, luxurious pace may not be for everyone but the slow eeking out of the story and the true situation is cleverly handled with Donoghue adapting her own novel along with Alice Birch and Leilo. The tension builds considerably towards the films denouement, making it gripping viewing with it unclear exactly how the girl has been surviving until late on into the films runtime. For the most part the exquisite, haunting atmosphere does a stellar job building a murky, mysterious world that is both welcoming and inhospitable, much like the local Irish community seemingly towards Lizzie.
The Wonder is a fine follow-up to Sebastián Lelio’s Oscar winner, cementing him as a director with a clear vision and immense range. As a vessel for Florence Pugh, she commands the screen at every turn with a more reserved performance than those of late again showing her breadth and it is refreshing to see her continue to mix blockbusters with films of this sort. The exquisite production design, cinematography and score make The Wonder a haunting, beguiling proposition whose unwinding slow build is certainly worth the ultimate pay off.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★