Past haunts the future
THE DAUGHTER ( M)
Director: Simon Stone ( feature debut) Starring: Paul Schneider, Ewen Leslie, Geoffrey Rush, Miranda Otto, Anna Torv, Odessa Young, Sam Neill Verdict: The value of family comes at a price
DELICATELY unsettling and decidedly affecting in equal measure, this well- acted Australian drama is sure to divide audiences in coming weeks.
If more viewers rule in favour of the movie than against it – as I suspect they will, albeit by a close margin – then most plaudits must go to The Daughter’s first- time writerdirector Simon Stone.
In spite of the moderately polarising results achieved on- screen, this radical remix of the Henrik Ibsen play The Wild Duck ( which Stone first took to the stage to great acclaim five years ago) announces the arrival of an assured new filmmaking talent.
The setting is an unnamed logging town, somewhere upcountry. The owner of the local mill – which is the principal employer in the region – has announced his business will be closing immediately.
Henry Neilson ( Geoffrey Rush) seems slightly disconnected to the debilitating effect his decision will have on the surrounding community.
The reason why gradually becomes apparent: Henry is about to marry a much younger woman, Anna ( Anna Torv), his former housekeeper. Just ahead of the big day, Henry has invited his estranged son Christian ( Paul Schneider) back into the family fold to serve as best man.
Though now very much an American – having lived in the States most of his adult life – Christian was born and raised on his father’s patch. With his own personal life recently upended on the same scale as that of Henry’s workers, Christian arrives home with some serious, scarring scores to settle.
The most jarring repercussions of Christian’s actions will be felt by the immediate family of his childhood best friend, Oliver ( Ewen Leslie).
A glass- half- full kind of guy, Oliver has taken his sudden sacking by Henry in his stride. His wife Charlotte ( Miranda Otto) still has a job teaching at the local school, and the couple’s only child, 15- year- old Hedvig ( Odessa Young) is a crucial source of inspiration and support to them both.
However, by the day of Henry and Anna’s wedding, Christian’s mercurial re- entry into Oliver’s life triggers an incident that could result in a loss far more devastating than just a job at the mill.
A film as quietly ( and often, modestly) mounted as The Daughter means that it will not be catering to a majority of tastes.
For the experience to achieve maximum impact, the viewer has to make some effort to decode the conflicting motivations of a diverse and intriguing array of characters.
If you do find yourself in difficulty forging a direct connection with events as they unfold on- screen, the effortlessly natural and unforced chemistry between Leslie and Young is well worth focusing on.