Hannah Strong


Eileen – first-look review

Thomasin McKenzie plays a repressed prison worker who becomes infatuated with a female colleague in William Oldroyd's take on Ottessa Moshfegh's novel.

William Oldroyd’s searing 2016 period drama Lady Macbeth was a thorny tale of female repression and desire that made a star out of its leading lady Florence Pugh – it’s been a long wait for his follow-up, which arrives in the form of an adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel Eileen.

Similarly the narrative plays with an awkward young woman existing under the bootheel of the patriarchy, whose life is upended by a whirlwind love affair with disastrous results – in this case, the woman is Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) who works at a prison in 1960s Boston, living with her unpleasant, alcoholic father who constantly berates Eileen, comparing her to her older sister and her deceased mother. She struggles to form connections with her colleagues, until the glamorous Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) takes up a position as the prison psychologist. Instantly infatuated, Eileen begins to spend time with Rebecca, who encourages her out of her shell and takes her dancing.

Eileen owes much to Todd Haynes’ Carol spiritually, though adopts a more buttoned-up tone with little of the latter’s erotic charge (Eileen is a compulsive masturbator, and while this might seem edgy in the context of the 1960s setting, it’s not as interesting as the film seems to think it is). This could, in part, be down to the casting – McKenzie is unconvincing as Eileen, never managing to create the spark of deviousness her character purports to have, while Hathaway is beautiful but forgettable as Rebecca, her performance too breezy and open to give the impression she’s keeping dark secrets.

The abrupt ending – while lifted from the book – also feels disappointing and confusing, lacking Eileen’s narration which at least gave it context on the page. While the film attempts to be a twisted take on female liberation, it feels instead unendingly somber and unsatisfying, save for a bleak monologue delivered by supporting player Marin Ireland which briefly seems to hint towards a more interesting film. It’s a disappointment as Oldroyd is clearly a gifted filmmaker, but Eileen does nothing that Lady Macbeth didn’t do better, some seven years ago.

Published 27 Jan 2023

Tags: William Oldroyd

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