Tread­ing the bores

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -

UNA Di­rected by Bene­dict An­drews. Star­ring Rooney Mara, Ben Men­del­sohn, Riz Ahmed, Ruby Stokes, Tara Fitzger­ald, Natasha Lit­tle. 16 cert, lim­ited re­lease, 94 min The greater part of this trou­ble­some film is taken up with con­ver­sa­tions between a grown woman and the man who sex­u­ally abused her when she was just 13. Not that he would de­scribe it that way.

What­ever the law may say, Ray (Ben Men­del­sohn) thinks it worth point­ing out that Una (Rooney Mara) “con­sented”. He claims that there was no groom­ing in­volved. He has never re­peated the of­fence. These are ar­gu­ments that think­ing peo­ple have learned to dis­re­gard.

Una, de­rived from a play by David Har­rower (not some­thing you’re al­lowed to for­get), is thus ask­ing quite a bit of its au­di­ence. Much of Ray’s di­a­logue will have the so­cial me­dia user reach­ing in­wardly for the “block” but­ton. Una’s hugely un­easy con­flict – she may still have feel­ings for Ray – risks fur­ther alien­at­ing even the most com­pli­ant viewer. Who wants these con­ver­sa­tions?

The two per­for­mances have enough cu­ri­ous an­gles to keep us hooked on the char­ac­ters’ squalid ne­go­ti­a­tions. Men­del­sohn has long ago mas­tered the art of fold­ing pathos in with the po­ten­tially sin­is­ter. Ray, who has served time, is cer­tainly shoul­der­ing some guilt, but he also works hard at daily ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion. If you want some­body to play emo­tion­ally dead­ened, Mara is the first per­son you’re likely to phone. They just about

Rooney Mara and Ben Men­del­sohn work hard in a stagey duo­logue that can’t es­cape its past, writes Don­ald Clarke

make it work.

The film’s more stub­born prob­lem de­rives from its con­spic­u­ous the­atri­cal ori­gins. The source was orig­i­nally a two-han­der and that re­ally shows. We be­gin with Una track­ing down Ray – now called Pete – at a bland ware­house in some unglam­orous corner of Eng­land. They con­sider how he picked her up and how they at­tempted to flee the coun­try. No screen­writer, con­struct­ing an orig­i­nal script, would in­dulge in such lengthy and man­nered dis­cus­sion of a past event with­out al­low­ing us a com­pre­hen­sive flash­back. The film does drift back to the ear­lier in­ci­dent (with an ex­cel­lent Ruby Stokes play­ing the young Una), but those scenes are merely brief il­lus­tra­tions for the con­tin­u­ing duo­logue.

In adapt­ing his own piece, Har­rower has given lines to a few cir­cling char­ac­ters, but they feel like half-formed con­coc­tions, knocked up to jus­tify the story’s pres­ence on a cin­ema screen. Riz Ahmed is wasted as Ray’s col­league. Tara Fitzger­ald is barely present as Una’s mum. The wil­fully drab mid­dle-English sur­round­ings do lit­tle to ex­pand ac­tion be­yond the scene dock.

Still, Una def­i­nitely nags away at you. It pokes you in the side. It pinches your ear. Worth en­dur­ing once. But that should do it.

Squalid ne­go­ti­a­tions Rooney Mara and Ben Men­del­sohn in Una

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