The Daughter

Review by Josh Slater-Williams @jslaterwilliams

Directed by

Simon Stone

Starring

Anna Torv Ewen Leslie Geoffrey Rush

Anticipation.

An acclaimed stage production makes its way to the big screen, with writer/director and some cast members along for the ride.

Enjoyment.

Festen your seatbelts.

In Retrospect.

A solid debut feature, with strong hopes for Australian cinema both behind and in front of the camera.

There’s a touch of Thomas Vinterberg about this impressive Aussie debut from Simon Stone.

A brief glimpse of the credits and promotional material for Simon Stone’s The Daughter might cause red flags to pop up in the mind of certain viewers. But fear not, as any negative preconceptions you might harbour about theatre directors making the leap from stage to screen are dispelled pretty swiftly.

Set in modern day Australia, the film is a reworking of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s ‘The Wild Duck’, an 1884 play about an idealistic son exposing his corrupt merchant father’s deceit, only for the reveal to backfire and destroy the lives of those he intended to help. Stone’s confident direction successfully forgoes the staginess that can often hamper screen adaptations of plays; it’s less in the vein of former National Theatre don, Nicholas Hytner, whose screen adaptation of Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’ almost felt like little more than a filmed play, and more in line with the lyrical, moody and brooding style of fellow Antipodean Jane Campion, in tone if not necessarily subject matter.

Returning to the Australian timber town from which he fled to the US, Christian is set to attend the marriage of his aloof father, Henry (Geoffrey Rush), to a much younger woman, Anna (Anna Torv). An alcoholic teetering off the wagon, Christian is meant to be serving as his father’s best man despite despising every fibre of his being. And so he ditches most of the rehearsal to catch up with childhood pal Oliver (Ewen Leslie), who’s just been made redundant by the closure of Henry’s timber mill. This meet-up also gives him some time to forge a connection with Oliver’s bright-spark, teenage daughter, Hedvig (Odessa Young).

A penchant for bluish hues veering between both the warm and chilly is where that Campion comparison begins to register on a visual level. Yet anyone familiar with Thomas Vinterberg’s 1998 feature Festen might find traces of that film’s DNA in Stone’s take on a fraught family reunion descending into chaos on account of a patriarch’s devastating secret. A number of key Campion collaborators (Sam Neill, composer Mark Bradshaw) are among the cast and crew, which also includes American Paul Schneider, a scene-stealer from Campion’s 2009 feature Bright Star. His character, Christian, is our initial entry point into the drama, yet the film goes on to distribute equal attention among its vast, exceptional ensemble.

As the title ominously foreshadows, Hedvig becomes the story’s focal point as Christian seeks to expose certain suspicions regarding his pop and the damage he’s wreaked upon the town. While the film’s narrative twists are always a mite predictable, it steadies the ship with its sheer emotional force, hitting many a raw nerve thanks to the vulnerability and simmering pain conveyed by its central players – Leslie and Young are particular standouts. The fallout from the revelations is especially wrenching and destructive. There’s a claustrophobic, menacing quality that makes it at times feel like all the dark secrets may manifest as literal demons lurking in the shadows amid the wintry woodlands. It’s a family tragedy with a tinge of the spectral.

Published 27 May 2016

Anticipation.

An acclaimed stage production makes its way to the big screen, with writer/director and some cast members along for the ride.

Enjoyment.

Festen your seatbelts.

In Retrospect.

A solid debut feature, with strong hopes for Australian cinema both behind and in front of the camera.

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