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The Daughter (Simon Stone – 2015) Movie Review [Sydney Film Festival]

The Daughter is a tale of long dormant secrets simmering to the surface; with potentially devastating consequences. Debut writer/director Simon Stone adapts The Daughter from his previous theatrical production of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck and crafts beautifully vulnerable performances from his players.

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The Daughter is an extremely difficult film to avoid spoilers in any kind of discussion of the narrative. Without avoiding it altogether, I’d say that it’s tremendously paced and moulded around the setting, despite the fact that it could almost be set in any part of the world. Despite the fact that Hedwig could be said to be the focus of the film (as the title would perhaps suggest), it’s one of the truest ensemble screen stories that I can remember. The entire film you feel like you’re being wound on a wrack. You’re not quite sure what you’re going to be forced to witness, but you know that this beautiful, vibrant, special young girl Hedwig is going to be dragged from the innocence of childhood to a messy adulthood, or worse. Stone is absolutely mesmerising in his use of nature shots to stagger the pacing between different segments of the film. There are moments where you’re sure that it’s merely lip service to the setting, but as we draw closer into some of the settings they become landmarks that have meaning and the weather at the locations begin to adjust the mood that you’re anticipating for the forthcoming scene. The Daughter also has meticulous sound design, swelling score grafted over some incidental sounds, dialogue going out of sync with characters, so that in a way, they’re conveying reactions to their own proclamations. Stone choreographs character exchanges like dance and has an innate sense of when to either collapse the space between you and the characters or withdraw at the height of their emotions.

Geoffrey Rush is not the strutting showman that his real life persona continuously propagates; instead, his Henry is contemplative and insular man. Never an overstated word, never surrender to the theatrical, simply a shell over irreparable wounds. Paul Schneider’s Christian, Henry’s son has been a expat since his mother past away. His return home is one of those flaps from a butterfly wing that causes a hurricane. He’s like a foreign agent in an immune system, the more he’s there the more he texts the structures and facades masking the people in his life.

Ewen Leslie is simply sensational; from humming with such a natural charm, swelling with paternal love that rushes like a burst dam and being able to transition to the devastatingly raw consequences of self pity. Sam Neill’s Walter is doddering at first but you come to know of a past that involved fraud, prison time and unquestioning loyalty. Miranda Otto’s Charlotte, apart from her striking beauty, appears the most modest character in the opening stages of the film. However as you come to learn about the checkered past of Oliver and Walter you start to get a sense for the rough terrain that they collectively must have overcome to get to this point in this film; and that the film make force them into retaking that detour.

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Odessa Young is unquestionably wonderful. Standing toe to toe with some of Australia’s finest performers and not only matching their intensity and focus but elevating the character of Hedwig to such a position that she soars above the other characters in the film. Vastly more emotionally mature than her laconic love interest, sharper her than her grandfather Walter (Neill), smarter and more charming than her already endearingly silly dad Oliver (Leslie) and braver than her more reserved mother Charlotte (Otto).

The Daughter is an intimate tale told with sweeping intensity; and be warned; it will exhume your heart from your chest. 

Score: 4/5

Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

Directed by: Simon Stone
Written by: Simon Stone
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Ewen Leslie, Odessa Young, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto, Sam Neill, Anna Torv

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