Review: ‘Emily’ (2022), starring Emma Mackey, Fionn Whitehead, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Alexandra Dowling, Adrian Dunbar, Amelia Gething and Gemma Jones

February 19, 2023

by Carla Hay

Emma Mackey in “Emily” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Emily” (2022)

Directed by Frances O’Connor

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in England (and briefly in Belgium), from 1841 to 1848, the dramatic film “Emily” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Aspiring writer Emily Brontë, who is perceived as a reclusive weirdo in her community, experiences love and loss before writing her first and only novel, “Wuthering Heights.”

Culture Audience: “Emily” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Emily Brontë, British films that take place in the 1800s, and well-acted movies that have gothic tones and themes.

Fionn Whitehead and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in “Emily” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

Gorgeously filmed like an Emily Brontë novel come to life, “Emily” overcomes its occasionally dull moments with very good acting, led by a vibrant performance from Emma Mackey. This gothic drama perfectly captures the moody and eccentric personality of its author protagonist without turning her into a parody or caricature. It’s not a completely accurate biopic in the purist sense of the word, because much of the story is about a romance that was fabricated for the movie.

“Emily” is the first feature film from writer/director Frances O’Connor (also known for being an actress), who shows talent in casting choices, visual style and character development. However, “Emily” needed some improvement in the narrative structure: Some scenes look unnecessary because they don’t really go anywhere. Better choices could also have been made in the film editing for “Emily,” because the movie’s pacing sometimes drags. These are minor flaws that shouldn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.

“Emily” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. For the 2023 British Independent Film Awards, the movie was nominated for four prizes: Best Lead Performance (for Mackey); Best Supporting Performance (for Fionn Whitehead); the Douglas Hickox Award, a prize given to a debut director (for O’Connor); and Best Ensemble. At the 2023 British Academy Film Awards, Mackey won the Rising Star Award.

“Emily” takes place mostly in England’s Yorkshire county, from 1841 to 1848. In 1841, Emily Brontë (played by Mackey) is a 23-year-old bachelorette who is shy, eccentric and reclusive. She has a vivid imagination and often seems to live in a fantasy world, but this personality trait also caused her to have a reputation in the community for being weird and an extreme daydreamer. Emily often talks out loud to the characters that she has created in her head.

She is also a poet who has been able to get her poems published under the alias Ellis Bell. It was very common for women writers at the time to send their work to publishers by using a man’s name as an alias, because they knew this gender switch would increase their chances of getting published. Unlike many women in her age group, Emily is not preoccupied with finding a husband, especially a man who has more money than her family does.

Emily lives in a rural parsonage in Haworth, England, with her widowed father Reverend Patrick Brontë (played by Adrian Dunbar), her younger sister Anne Brontë (played by Amelia Gething), her older brother Branwell Brontë (played by Whitehead) and her aunt Elizabeth Branwell (played by Gemma Jones), who is the sister of Emily’s deceased mother Maria. Emily has an older sister named Charlotte Brontë (played by Alexandra Dowling), who doesn’t live at home for most of the movie because Charlotte is away at college and then gets a teaching position at the school after she graduates.

All four of the Brontë siblings are aspiring writers, but the movie depicts Emily as the sibling who is the most consistently prolific. When Charlotte comes home for a visit from school, Charlotte mentions to Emily that she’s been too busy to write because of all of her schoolwork. Throughout the movie, there’s an unspoken rivalry between Emily and Charlotte—not just when it comes to any of their professional aspirations but also when it comes to their love lives. As the oldest of the four siblings, overachieving Charlotte expects to be the first of her siblings to accomplish great things and to be the sibling to get married first.

The Brontë family is grieving over the death of matriarch Maria, who died of cancer in 1821, when Emily was 3 years old. Maria’s absence has left a void that the siblings don’t really like to talk about with each other. What “Emily” doesn’t mention is that in real life, the family’s two eldest siblings (Maria and Elizabeth) died in 1824 from typhoid epidemic that plagued their school. Charlotte then became the eldest living sibling, which partially explains why she acts like both a sister and a mother to her younger siblings.

Emily is close to all of her living siblings, but she has a special bond with Branwell, who is only a year older than Emily. Branwell is fun-loving, rebellious and can usually make Emily laugh when she’s feeling depressed, which is apparently quite often. Unlike Charlotte, who is often judgmental of Emily and scolds Emily for being vulgar, Branwell accepts Emily for exactly who she is. He also has great admiration for her as a writer. And so does Anne, who is the kindest and friendliest of the four siblings.

Emily frequently joins Branwell for some of his mischief making, such as when they peek though neighbors’ windows unbeknownst to the neighbors, or when they indulge in taking drugs. Emily and Branwell secretly smoke marijuana together and take liquid opium stolen from their father, who keeps am opium stash for emergency medicinal purposes. This opium taking becomes a serious addiction for one of these siblings.

Whatever social life that Emily has is usually because of her more outgoing siblings. They sometimes frolic together in the nearby fields like giddy children. Things are much more serious at the church where their father is the chief clergyman.

However, the arrival of a curate named William Weightman (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), bachelor in his 30s, indicates that this church is about to undergo a transformation. William’s first sermon isn’t a typical stuffy lecture but is instead a personal tale with a rain theme. He talks about much he enjoys walking in the rain, and how rain is similar to a spiritual cleansing.

After the sermon, sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne are gathered in the kitchen, where they are helping prepare meals for the visiting congregation. Charlotte and Anne are immensely charmed by handsome newcomer William, while Emily is not as impressed. And it’s at that moment that you know what Emily is going to fall in love with William.

Anne gushes, “He speaks with such poetry.” Emily replies, “Any man can speak, but what can he actually do?” Emily then says sarcastically, “I do wonder though: How does God squeeze Himself into all that rain. Does he get wet?”

At that moment, William walks in the kitchen to formally introduce himself. He knows that the sisters were talking about him, and there’s some awkwardness that he quickly diffuses with self-deprecating charisma. Emily doesn’t say much to William in this conversation, but her staring eyes show that she’s intrigued by him but doesn’t want to admit it to anyone just yet.

Over time, Charlotte and Anne openly express that they have a crush on William, as they giggle in his presence and seem awed by everything he says and does. For Valentine’s Day, William gives all three sisters friendly Valentine’s Day notes, but Emily is the only one of the sisters who reacts with seeming indifference. However, through a series of circumstances, (including William becoming Emily’s French tutor), Emily and William get to know each other better. And an attraction grows between them.

Up until this point, Branwell is the man who is closest to Emily. Branwell is aware of a growing attraction between Emily and William. Branwell seems jealous or threatened that another person could mean more to Emily than Branwell. And so, Branwell tells Emily that he doesn’t think William is the right person for her. William is cautious about having a love affair with Emily because it’s ethically questionable and because he doesn’t want to lose the trust of Emily’s father, who is William’s mentor.

Like any compelling gothic movie that mixes horror and romance, “Emily” has a few scenes that are literally haunting. One evening, the Brontë family is hosting a dinner, with William and a family friend in her 20s named Ellen Nussey (played by Sacha Parkinson) as the guests. Patrick brings out a white theater mask that he says was a wedding gift to him and Maria, but this gift was not accompanied by a card, so they never found out who gave them this mask. Patrick explains that his children would play with the mask when they were growing up, by someone putting on the mask and playing a character, while other people would have to guess the identity of the character.

After dinner, Emily, Charlotte, Anne, Branwell, William and Ellen gather in a room to play this game from the Brontë siblings’ childhood. At first, the game is lighthearted. But then, Emily puts on the mask and starts talking. To her siblings’ horror, they figure out that Emily is impersonating their dead mother. Suddenly, strong wind gusts whip through the room, as if an unseen ghostly spirit has appeared. People in the room have various reactions, but it unnerves most of the people who witnessed this spectacle.

“Emily” doesn’t turn into a ghost story, but the mask is a symbol for how much of the past the siblings want to hold on to, when it comes to their childhoods and how the death of their mother has affected them. At one point, one of the siblings buries the mask in the backyard, as if the mask also represents painful memories. The mask is later dug up and retrieved, as if to reclaim those memories to being positive and something that shouldn’t be feared.

The romance between Emily and William plays out exactly like it usually does in movies like “Emily,” with Mackey and Jackson-Cohen showing the typical combination of repressed lust and unleashed passion, depending on the scene. Mackey does a lot of terrific acting with her expressive eyes, so that observant viewers can deduce what Emily is thinking, even when Emily isn’t saying a word. The movie shows that, far from being bashful about expressing love, Emily is the one who initiates many of the overtures in this romance.

Whitehead also stands out in his role of complicated Branwell, who seems to be carefree on the outside, but Branwell is actually deeply insecure and troubled about himself and his place in the family. Whereas Emily has Charlotte as Emily’s biggest critic, Branwell has his father Patrick has Branwell’s biggest critic. Branwell can’t seem to change Patrick’s perception that Branwell is a “disappointment” to the family.

Because very little is known about the real Emily Brontë’s love life, the romance in the movie was created to spice up the story. Although the character of William is a composite of real people, according to the production notes for “Emily,” there is no evidence that Emily fell in love with someone who worked for her father. However, the movie correctly depicts that Emily briefly gave up writing when she decided to become a teacher.

The sibling rivalry between Emily and Charlotte is much more plausible. In real life, Charlotte Brontë also became a famous author because of her novel “Jane Eyre,” which was published in 1847, the same year that Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” was published. Both novels are centered on romance, but each book has a very different tone. “Wuthering Heights” has a darker tone that was considered more risqué at the time.

Because “Emily” is told from Emily’s perspective, very little is shown about Charlotte’s writing process. “Emily” speculates what could have motivated Emily to write her greatest and best-known work (“Wuthering Heights”) in her short life. The movie is both a fitting tribute and an imaginative portait of an enigmatic author whose work has stood the test of time.

Bleecker Street released “Emily” in select U.S. cinemas on February 17, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on February 24, 2023. The movie was released in the United Kindgom on October 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List,’ starring Freida Pinto, Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ashley Park, Zawe Ashton and Theo James

July 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù and Freida Pinto in “Mr. Malcolm’s List” (Photo by Ross Ferguson/Bleecker Street)

“Mr. Malcolm’s List”

Directed by Emma Holly Jones

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in 1818 (with a brief flashback to 1802), in England, the comedy/drama film “Mr. Malcolm’s List” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black people, white people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: London’s most eligible bachelor, who has a list of requirements for his future wife, becomes the target of a romantic scheme concocted by a socialite who was rejected by this wealthy bachelor and who enlists her working-class childhood best friend to seduce the bachelor. 

Culture Audience: “Mr. Malcolm’s List” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Jane Austen-inspired stories about people in 1800s England who are preoccupied with social class and marriage.

Theo James and Zawe Ashton in “Mr. Malcolm’s List” (Photo by Ross Ferguson/Bleecker Street)

Obviously influenced by Jane Austen novels, “Mr. Malcolm’s List” is an entirely predictable comedy/drama romp that’s enjoyable to watch because of the entertaining performances by the movie’s talented cast. The movie hits all the expected beats of a story about class-conscious people in 1800s England who have schemes and misunderstandings when it comes to love and marriage. Most viewers will already know how the movie is going to end, but it’s a delightful ride along the way, filled with costume design, production design and cinematography that are gorgeous.

“Mr. Malcolm’s List” is the feature-film directorial debut of Emma Holly Jones, who also directed the 2019 short film “Mr. Malcolm’s List.” Both movies are based on Suzanne Allain’s 2009 novel of the same name. Allain wrote the screenplay for both movies. Jones is also a producer of the “Mr. Malcolm’s List” movies. These flmmakers clearly have a love of the source material, since the feature film “Mr. Malcolm’s List” does justice to the novel, with the added cinematic choice of making the cast racially diverse.

No one ever mentions people’s racial identities in the movie, but social class is at the forefront of the expectations, perceptions and disagreements that the “Mr. Malcolm’s List” characters have when it comes love and marriage. The movie (which takes place in England) opens in 1802, when two girls, who are about 13 or 14 years old, are roommates at a boarding school called Mrs. Finch’s Ladies Academy.

The scene is very short, but it says a lot about the personalities of these two girls. Julia Thistlewaite (played by Aisling Doyle) is bossy and extroverted. Selina Dalton (played by Tia Ann Jain) is easygoing and introverted. In their bedroom, Julia sees Selina reading a book and says to Selina: “Keeping your head in books all day will not create the marriagable mind.” Selina replies, “I have nothing materially to offer to a husband anyway.” Julia then says, “I have no loving father to offer me a match. A right pair we make.”

It’s later explained in the movie that not only do Julia and Selina have different personalities, but Julia and Selina also come from contrasting backgrounds. Julia is an only child from a wealthy family led by Julia’s widowed mother. Selina is one of several siblings whose married parents are still alive. Selina’s father is a low-income vicar who had a benefactor generously offer to pay for Selina to attend this elite academy.

During this conversation, it’s toward the end of the academic year, so the girls will soon be going their separate ways. Selina and Julia promise that they will always look out for each other. Julia goes a step further and says that after she moves to London and finds a man to marry her, she will find a husband for Selina. Years later, Julia and Selina end up reuniting, but not in the way that Julia thought it would happen during this childhood conversation.

The movie then fast-forwards to 1818. A wealthy heir named Jeremy Malcolm (played by Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) is widely known as London’s most eligible bachelor. It’s explained that he inherited a vast estate from an aunt. And even though Mr. Malcolm is the younger son of an earl (who is now deceased), Mr. Malcolm has no royal title of his own. Even without a title, his wealth, charisma and good looks have made women eager to get his attention.

Julia (played by Zawe Ashton) is one of these women. And she’s managed to get a date with Mr. Malcolm, who takes Julia to see an opera performance. They have balcony seating all to themselves. Mr. Malcolm and Julia have very little chemistry together on the date. Julia tries too hard to impress him. She doesn’t have the intelligence that he wants in a woman, so it’s a turnoff for Mr. Malcolm.

A dealbreaker for him is how Julia reacts when he asks her what she thinks about the Corn Laws, which at that time were England’s tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported corn and other imported food. Julia’s response shows she has no idea what he’s talking about: “I believe that restraint in one’s diet is bound to have a healthy effect” she says with a forced smile. Needless to say, Julia doesn’t get another date with Mr. Malcolm.

Throughout the movie, there are two gossipy women named Lady Margaret (played by Danielle Ryan) and Lucy (played by Emma Lou Willis, also known as Emma Willis), who lurk around because they’re nosy about Mr. Malcolm’s love life. They’re first seen observing Mr. Malcolm and Julia on their opera date, because these two gossips are seated in a nearby balcony. Lady Margaret and Lucy make catty comments out loud to each other about the women whom Mr. Malcolm takes on dates. It’s comic relief that’s intermittent and fortunately not too much of a distraction.

Two other characters who are mostly in the background but make occasional comedic comments are a maid named Molly (played by played by Sianad Gregory) and a footman named John (played by Divian Ladwa), who are characters that are not in the “Mr. Malcolm’s List” book. John and Molly are dutiful to their wealthy employers. But when these employers aren’t looking, Molly and John show some exasperation at how these employers tend to live in a privileged “bubble” and are out of touch with the rest of society. For example, when Mr. Malcolm and his social circle have a pretentious discussion about how to fix social problems of the working-class, John snidely says to himself, “They could pay us more.”

Meanwhile, Selina (played by Freida Pinto) has been living in Sussex and has recently lost her job as a caretaker for an elderly woman because the woman has died. And just as Selina was in her adolescence, Selina is not as preoccupied as Julia is with finding a husband. Selina is seen politely rejecting the marriage proposal of an affluent man named Mr. Woodbury (played by Gerry O’Brien), who’s old enough to be her father.

Mr. Woodbury barely knows Selina, but he knows that she doesn’t have much money, and he can offer her a financially comfortable life. He’s stung by Selina’s rejection. Mr. Woodbury warns Selina about her refusal to marry him: “If you refuse, your prospects will be grim indeed.” Selina firmly stands by her decision. In other words, it’s the movie’s way of showing that Selina only wants to marry for love, not for money.

Someone else who’s not taking rejection very well is Julia. When she finds out that Mr. Malcolm doesn’t want to court her anymore, she’s determined to find out why. Julia’s agitation goes into overdrive when she sees a satiric illustration of Mr. Malcolm on a date with her, and the illustration has this caption: “Next!” Adding to Julia’s humiliation, this caricature has been published and distributed, so many people in London’s society have seen it.

Julia’s sarcastic cousin Lord Cassidy (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who is a friend of Mr. Malcolm’s, tells Julia about a secretive list that Mr. Malcolm has compiled. This list has all the requirements that Mr. Malcolm wants in a wife because he doesn’t want to marry a gold digger or anyone who is shallow, selfish and less-than-smart. And apparently, Julia didn’t meet the requirement of the ability to converse in a sensible fashion.

A furious and offended Julia then comes up with a revenge plan to get Mr. Malcolm to fall in love with another woman, who will then reject Mr. Malcolm by surprising Mr. Malcolm with a list of requirements that Mr. Malcolm does not meet. Julia decides that her former schoolmate Selina, whom she hasn’t seen in years, would be the ideal person to recruit to be the seductress. Even though Selina is a kind, intelligent and physically attractive woman, snobby Julia thinks that Selina being “poor” makes it unlikely that Selina could marry someone of Mr. Malcolm’s status.

Julia makes a trip to Sussex to reunite with Selina and tell her about this plan. Julia makes it sound like Mr. Malcolm is a jerk who deserves to have this revenge. Selina is very reluctant to participate in this scheme, but she agrees out of loyalty to Julia and out of curiosity to go to London to meet Mr. Malcolm. To Selina’s surprise, Selina finds Mr. Malcolm to be pleasantly charming and attractive. And the feeling is mutual.

You know where this is going, of course. The more time that Mr. Malcolm and Selina spend together, the more he finds out that Selina checks all the requirements on his list. He has no idea that Selina was recruited by Julia to seduce him. Selina finds out that she doesn’t need to pretend to be interested in Mr. Malcolm, and she becomes less inclined to betray Mr. Malcolm. Meanwhile, Julia pressures a reluctant Lord Cassidy to continue to give Julia important information about Mr. Malcolm, so that Julia’s revenge plot can go exactly as she plans.

During the courtship of Mr. Malcolm and Selina, another confident and eligible bachelor arrives on the scene: Captain Henry Ossory (played by Theo James), the nephew of the deceased elderly woman who was Selina’s most recent employer. Captain Ossory meets Selina and Mr. Malcolm for the first time during a social get-together. Captain Ossory is effusive in his compliments to Selina, because he had heard good things about her from his aunt.

Captain Ossory finds Selina attractive too, and he asks her out on a date in front of Mr. Malcolm. Selina says yes. And now, Mr. Malcolm thinks he’s got some competition for Selina’s affections. More courting and scheming go on during lavish ballroom parties, banquets and romantic dates.

In addition, some family members have an effect on all these social encounters. Julia’s domineering and meddling mother Mrs. Thistlewaite (played by Naoko Mori) is desperate for Julia to marry a man who’s wealthier than the Thistlewaite family. Selina’s loving and laid-back parents (played by Paul Tylak and Dawn Bradfield) eventually meet Mr. Malcolm’s widowed mother Lady Kilbourne (played by Doña Croll), who is astute and perceptive about the people who come into her son’s life. These parents don’t have first names in the movie, by the way.

And in the last third of the movie, a ditsy and tactless woman named Gertie Covington (played by Ashley Park) arrives on the scene to give unwitting insults and cause a little bit of social chaos. Who Gertie is and how she knows certain people in the story aren’t handled very well, but the reveal of her identity further fuels some of the melodrama that happens around Julia’s vendetta. Gertie’s role in the story speaks to how people deal with the concept of how a potential spouse’s family members can affect a relationship or potential marriage.

“Mr. Malcolm’s List” delivers everything audiences can expect from lush period movies that take place in high society England in the 1800s. It’s the cinematic version of a romance novel that plays into fantasies of people living in a world where their biggest problems are about finding the ideal spouse or life partner. Even the “poor” people in “Mr. Malcolm’s List” look well put-together. Amelia Warner’s romantic musical score is perfectly suited for the movie.

All of the cast members give skilled performances that deliver the witty banter and emotional entanglements with believable charm. A character such as Julia could have been extremely irritating for the entire movie (and she does have plenty of annoying moments), but Ashton’s performance gives the Julia character a lot of realistic and occasionally amusing humanity. All of the other cast members portray their characters exactly how people expect them to act.

“Mr. Malcolm’s List” has some over-used romantic movie clichés, including a scene showing a race against time to confess true love. But those stereotypes can easily be forgiven when “Mr. Malcolm’s List” does such a good job of keeping people’s interest in these characters and how they handle their romance predicaments. “Mr. Malcolm’s List” takes place in the 1800s, but the movie shows in clever ways that the enormous pressures that many people put on themselves to find a spouse or life partner aren’t exclusive to a bygone era and still happen today.

Bleecker Street released “Mr. Malcolm’s List” in U.S. cinemas on July 1, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on July 21, 2022.

Review: ‘The Lost Daughter,’ starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley

December 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dakota Johnson and Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix) 

“The Lost Daughter” (2021)

Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal

Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece, England and Italy, the dramatic film “The Lost Daughter” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A British woman, who works as a comparative Italian literature professor, goes on vacation in Greece, where she has flashbacks of her troubled background as a young mother, after she encounters a young mother from a boisterous Italian American family who are staying in the same vacation villa spot. 

Culture Audience: “The Lost Daughter” will appeal primarily to fans of star Olivia Colman and expertly acted psychological dramas.

Jessie Buckley (center) in “The Lost Daughter” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix) 

“The Lost Daughter” upends the stereotype that mothers depicted in movies are supposed to think that parenthood is the greatest thing that ever happened to them. Much of the discontent in the movie has to do with doubts and insecurities that mothers have when they find out that motherhood doesn’t make them as happy as they were taught to believe it would. The movie might start off looking like a mystery thriller, but it’s really a psychological drama that takes viewers inside the restless and uneasy mind of woman during a tension-filled vacation and how she affects other people around her. Olivia Colman anchors the movie with a memorable and intriguing performance.

“The Lost Daughter” is the feature-film directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal, who wrote the adapted screenplay, which is based on Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation of the book, but the movie changes the nationalities of the main characters and the coastal vacation setting from Italy to Greece. “The Lost Daughter” benefits from cinematic elements (such as production design and music) that very much enhance the mood and emotions conveyed in the story. Just like in the book, the movie centers on a vacation that is fraught with some psychological torment and guilt over motherhood issues.

In “The Lost Daughter,” Colman portrays Leda Caruso, a 48-year-old university professor of comparative Italian literature. Leda is originally from England: She grew up in Leeds and currently lives in Cambridge. Leda is on vacation in Greece, where she is renting a villa during this trip. (In “The Lost Daughter” book, Leda is an Italian native who is a university professor of English and vacationing in Italy.)

Leda is divorced with two adult daughters: 25-year-old Bianca and 23-year-old Martha, who are not seen in the movie but whose voices can be heard when they talk to Leda on the phone. Ellie James is the voice of the adult Bianca, while Isabelle Della-Porta is the voice of the adult Martha. At different points in the movie, Leda has flashbacks to when her daughters were underage children. In these flashbacks, Jessie Buckley plays young Leda, Robyn Elwell plays Bianca at approximately 7 or 8 years old, and Ellie Mae Blake plays Martha at about 5 or 6 years old.

Leda is looking forward to spending some quiet and relaxing time alone on this vacation. Two of the first people she meets are Lyle (played by Ed Harris), the middle-aged caretaker of the villa where’s staying, and Will (played by Paul Mescal), an Irish college business student who works at the resort during the summer as a lifeguard and general handyman. Lyle and Will are both friendly and accommodating. Lyle mentions that he’s been the villa’s caretaker for the past 30 years.

Leda’s plans for a tranquil holiday become disrupted when her vacation becomes anything but quiet and relaxing. Not long after Leda finds a space on a beach to settle down and get some sun, a large and very loud Italian American family shows up and interrupts Leda’s peace and quiet. There are about 12 to 15 people in this group of raucous newcomers.

Two of them are a married couple named Callie (played by Dagmara Dominczyk) and Vassili (played by Panos Koronis), who ask Leda to move out of her spot on the beach to make room for some people in the group. Leda firmly says no. In response, a young man in the group calls Leda a derogatory and sexist name that rhymes with “punt.” Callie and Vassili walk away, visibly annoyed with Leda.

Needless to say, Leda and this family do not make a good impression on each other. From where Leda sits on the beach, she observes this family. Leda notices a strikingly good-looking couple who’s part of the group: They are Callie’s younger sister Nina (played by Dakota Johnson) and Nina’s husband Toni (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who seem to have a passionate marriage, based on their public displays of affection. Nina and Toni have a daughter with them named Elena (played by Athena Martin Anderson), who’s about 5 years old.

Shortly after the awkward encounter with Leda, Callie approaches Leda again on the beach. This time, it’s to make an apology for the family being so rude. Callie brings a piece of cake as a peace offering, and she asks Leda about herself. Leda doesn’t really seem interested in making friends with anyone on this trip, but she reluctantly answers the questions, such as where she’s from and what she does for a living.

During this conversation, Callie is talkative and friendly. Callie says her family is from New York City, but they have other family members who’ve lived in this part of Greece for “300 years.” She mentions that she’s 42 years old and seven months pregnant with her first child, which the family already knows will be a girl. This talk abut motherhood makes Leda visibly uncomfortable. Leda comments to Callie: “Children are a crushing responsibility.”

During her observation of this family on the beach, Leda notices that Elena shows a strong attachment to a girl doll that Elena carries around. Elena also shows signs of possibly disturbed behavior because she bites the doll in an unusually aggressive manner. The doll and what happens next to Elena end up being the catalyst for most of what triggers Leda’s memories and actions during this trip.

While the family’s adults are partying on the beach, Elena suddenly goes missing. A frantic search ensues that takes a few hours, but Leda ends up finding Elena by herself in a wooded area near the beach. When Leda brings Elena back to her family, Leda is treated like a hero. But deep inside, Leda doesn’t feel like a hero.

That’s because Elena’s disappearance reignites a painful memory of when Leda’s elder daughter Bianca went missing on a beach when Bianca was about the same age as Elena. This memory and other things that happened in Leda’s past are presented as flashbacks in the movie. And that’s when it’s revealed that Leda didn’t really enjoy being a mother very much.

Slowly but surely, viewers find out how Leda was as a mother to two young children; what led to the demise of Leda’s marriage to her husband Joe (played by Jack Farthing); and what happened when a young Leda was accepted into grad school at a university in Italy. Gyllenhaal’s real-life husband Peter Sarsgaard has a supporting role as Professor Hardy, a charismatic professor of an Italian literature class that Leda took when she was in grad school.

Colman gives a compelling performance as Leda, who seems brittle on the outside but has emotional vulnerabilities on the inside. Elena’s doll and what happens to it are symbolic of clinging to youthful memories. As Leda’s memories from the past come flooding back, she also becomes increasingly caught up in what’s going in Nina’s life and the distress that’s caused when Elena’s doll goes missing.

At one point, Will warns Leda that Nina and her family are “bad people.” How dangerous are they? Leda finds out at least one big secret about Nina, who remains somewhat of a mystery throughout the entire movie. Buckley’s portrayal of a young Leda gives a necessary emotional depth to the older Leda, who wants to keep her inner turmoil hidden from the world.

“The Lost Daughter” is best enjoyed by audiences if people know from the beginning that this isn’t a movie filled with big action scenes or with any obvious villains. It’s a searing portrait of how one woman reflects on how she handled motherhood and how her personal encounters with another mother often feels like an eerie and upsetting reminder of the past. The title of the movie refers to a child who goes missing in two separate parts of the story, but the overall emotional arc is how a woman finds parts of herself that she wants to lose or forget.

Netflix released “The Lost Daughter” in select U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021. The movie premieres on Netflix on December 31, 2021.

Review: ‘The Invisible Man’ (2020), starring Elisabeth Moss

February 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Elisabeth Moss in “The Invisible Man” (Photo by Mark Rogers/Universal Pictures)

“The Invisible Man” (2020)

Directed by Leigh Whannell

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, this reimagination of the 1933 horror classic “The Invisible Man” is a modern, female-oriented revamp, with a cast of white and African American characters who mostly represent the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who escapes from an abusive boyfriend must convince people around her that he faked his suicide, found a way to become invisible, and is now out to get his revenge on her.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal to horror fans who are looking for a well-acted suspenseful film that has an underlying but not preachy message about social issues, such as stalking and domestic abuse.

Aldis Hodge, Elisabeth Moss and Storm Reid in “The Invisible Man” (Photo by Mark Rogers/Universal Pictures)

It might seem hard to believe, but there’s a horror-movie remake that actually isn’t an embarrassment to the original film. The 2020 version of “The Invisible Man” takes the original 1993 “The Invisible Man” movie (which was based on the H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel) and makes it an almost entirely different film by telling the story from the perspective of the Invisible Man’s girlfriend.

The 1933 version of “The Invisible Man” was about a mad scientist in England named Dr. Jack Griffin (played by Claude Rains), who discovers a drug that makes him become invisible, and he goes on a killing spree in a sinister plot to take over the world. In the 2020 version of “The Invisible Man,” the title character is Adrian Griffin (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a high-tech millionaire whose specialty is in optics. And for most of the movie, viewers don’t know much about him because his girlfriend Cecilia Kass (played by Elisabeth Moss) is front and center of the story.

At the beginning of the film, Cecilia is shown sneaking out of the bed she shares with Adrian at his oceanside mansion, which has an elaborate video surveillance system in place. The house also has a section that looks like a high-tech lab, with computers and mysterious body suits. Based on what’s shown in the next suspenseful 10 minutes, Cecilia has been planning this escape for quite some time. Cecilia has drugged Adrian, disabled the video surveillance, and packed the necessary items to leave Adrian for good.

There are a few scary close calls in Cecilia’s escape plan, but with the help of her younger sister Emily (played by Harriet Dyer), who drives the getaway car, Cecilia leaves Adrian behind with a mixture of relief and panic. Knowing that Adrian will look for Cecilia at Emily’s place, Cecilia hides out at the house of her close friend James Lanier (played by Aldis Hodge), who’s a cop and a single father to teenage daughter Sydney (played by Storm Reid), an aspiring fashion designer.

In the first two weeks after the escape, Cecilia is so traumatized that she acts like a recently released prisoner of war who’s become agoraphobic. Walking out of the house to the mailbox is big progress for her. It’s while she’s away from Adrian that Cecilia finally confesses to Emily and James the real reason why she has to take drastic measures to hide from Adrian. During Cecilia’s relationship with Adrian, he became more and more controlling and abusive. He would tell her what to do, when to eat, and what to think. And if she didn’t comply with his demands, he would hit her or do “something worse,” says Cecilia.

Cecilia is still afraid to come out of hiding, but then Emily (who’s an attorney) brings her some unexpected news: Adrian is dead of an apparent suicide, which has been reported by the local media. Not long afterward, Emily and Cecilia have a meeting with Adrian’s lawyer brother Tom Griffin (played by Michael Dorman), who is the executor of Adrian’s will. Tom tells them that Adrian left $5 million to Cecilia, on the condition that she’s proven to be mentally stable and she doesn’t get arrested for anything.

Feeling like the world’s weight has been lifted off of her shoulders, Cecilia starts to come out of her shell. As a gift, she gives $10,000 to Sydney so she can go to Parsons School of Design, and Cecilia promises more tuition money if Sydney wants to go to grad school. Cecilia also decides to resume her interrupted career as an architect, and she starts interviewing for jobs to re-enter her chosen profession.

But odd things happen during Cecilia’s job interview at an architect firm. The work samples that she had in a portfolio are not there when she opens up her portfolio. And then she passes out during the interview.

Other strange things keep happening. While cooking something in a frying pan, Cecilia briefly leaves the room and comes back to find the frying pan in flames, and it almost nearly causes a serious fire in the house. And then one night, Cecilia wakes up to find the blanket at the foot of the bed, and she sees a footprint on the blanket.

All of these  incidents might be explained away with logical reasons, but what sets Cecilia over the edge is when a prescription bottle, which she accidentally dropped during her escape from Adrian, shows up in her possession with a bloody fingerprint on it. Cecilia is convinced that it’s a sign from Adrian that he’s still alive, he’s invisible, and he’s taunting her. And things do indeed get much, much worse for Cecilia, as people around her question her sanity and she’s accused of something that could land her in prison for a very long time.

The 2020 version of “The Invisible Man” was written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who wrote the first two “Saw” movies and who created the “Insidious” franchise. (He’s written all of the “Insidious” movies so far.) “The Invisible Man” is his third movie as a director. It’s clear that he learned a lot from writing and directing the 2018 stunt-heavy film horror film “Upgrade,” because “The Invisible Man” has some heart-pounding stunts when people are fighting the Invisible Man.

Whannell’s “The Invisible Man” doesn’t rely too heavily on a lot of violence and gore for scares. (Although there is some bloody violence that will make people squirm.) Some of the most suspenseful moments in the film are the quietest moments or the claustrophobic moments, such as when Cecilia does some snooping in an attic where her invisible abuser might be hiding.

As the tortured Cecilia, Moss gives an excellent performance in making her an entirely believable character who might be losing her grip on her sanity. Hodge and Reid also give admirable performances by adding realistic emotional layers to what could have been generic supporting roles.

While a lot of modern horror films have been using hand-held camera techniques to induce scares, Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio have gone against this trend by framing many of the shots with steady overhead angles, which make the scenes more terrifying. It’s why the 2020 version of “The Invisible Man” is the type of horror movie that should be seen on as big of a screen as possible.

The above-average acting and the modern reimagination of this classic horror story make up for the fact that “The Invisible Man” has some plot holes, especially with unrealistic police techniques and procedures. However, these minor flaws shouldn’t take too much away from the film.

“The Invisible Man” is the first of a series of remakes of Universal Pictures monster movies that Universal has assigned to Blumhouse Productions, whose specialty is horror, with franchises such as “The Purge” and “Insidious.” Universal’s classic monster movies include “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Mummy,” “The Wolf Man” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Let’s hope that these remakes will continue what this version of “The Invisible Man” started, by bringing fresh ideas without tarnishing the quality of the original story.

Universal Pictures released “The Invisible Man” in U.S. cinemas on February 28, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the VOD release of “The Invisible Man” to March 20, 2020.

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