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Categories: Movie Reviews

Simon Stone successfully adapts Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” in this juicy drama.

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The Daughter is a highly stylized Australian drama, loosely based on Ibsen’s intense play The Wild Duck, that’s primarily about a secret that ties together, and eventually tears apart, two families. Filmmaker Simon Stone himself adapted the play for the theatre before turning his mind to this cinematic project.

[Some plot details ahead.] The cast includes Australian heavyweights Geoffrey Rush and Sam Neill, playing the patriarchs; Rush’s Henry is a controlling, miserable aristocrat, whilst Neill’s Walter is a softer, eco-warrior oddball. Familiar faces are found in Anna Torv, from popular US TV show Fringe, as well as in the American actor Paul Schneider, from Parks and Recreation, who plays Henry’s son Christian, a recovering alcoholic going through a separation. Torv, it must be said, is utterly appealing as Anna the housekeeper, who becomes Henry’s young wife-to-be; at times her performance is reminiscent of a younger Cate Blanchett.

The drama really begins to unfold when Christian comes back to town to attend his dad’s wedding. Christian is unlikeable, crippled by bitterness, his relationship with Henry frayed and his feelings to Anna somewhat confused. If this wasn’t enough to provoke a family drama, Christian also feels that Henry mistreated his deceased mother and now seeks to replace her with a younger model. Henry, of course, does not do Christian any favours with his stern, strict and defensive demeanor.

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Once back in town, Christian reaches out to his old-time friend, Walter’s son Oliver, played by Ewen Leslie. Walter’s family is not as rich as Henry’s, but appears to be much much happier, and it transpires that the two families had close relationships at one time; indeed, Henry and Walter were business partners, and Oliver’s wife Charlotte, played by Miranda Otto, was once Henry’s housekeeper. Oliver and Charlotte have a teenage daughter Hedvig who, played by Odessa Young, is a frisky force of nature with tie-dye pink hair. And whilst Odessa Young is mostly exquisite and nuanced in her portrayal of Hedvig, occasionally she meanders into overacting. One fascinating scene lingers in the memory, in which Odessa bullies her reluctant boyfriend to have sex with her in the woods and when he is unable to perform, notions of sexuality are subtly raised by filmmaker Simon Stone.

The big secret, duly revealed at the end of the film, is not simple, indeed it implicates both Henry’s and Walter’s family; and once revealed, drunkenly at Henry’s wedding, all hell breaks loose, as everyone reacts badly and descends into chaos. The final chapter of the film is replete with incredible performances as every actor is allowed their chance to publicly run the gamut of their outlandish emotions; as the tragic events escalate the audience are plunged headfirst into a cinematic landscape of passion, guilt, betrayal and bitter regret.

Simon Stone has created a film that is not only visually stunning but is engaging throughout; it is a truly success adaptation of Ibsen’s dark play. Although things do feel rather packed in and slightly too pacy at times, which left me wondering if The Daughter might have been better made for a TV movie, or possibly a two-part serial. Either way, it is still well worth your time, especially if you love your family dramas full of skeletons, closets and hysteria.

The Daughter is out now in UK cinemas. 

Daniel Theophanous

Daniel Theophanous is based in Hackney, London. He studied at Goldsmith College, he is a PR Director at Theo PR and as well an avid Film & TV lover. He organizes the London Fields Free Film Festival.

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Posted on May 23, 2016

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