Director: Simon Stone
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider, Anna Torv, Miranda Otto
Watch The Daughter online in the UK: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema / Google Play
Fresh from a successful stage production, acclaimed Australian theatre director Simon Stone makes an extremely impressive directorial debut with his big screen adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. Combining strong performances with a powerfully emotional script, it’s a devastating drama that will leave you reeling.
Transposing the setting of the 1884 play to present-day Australia, the film stars Paul Schneider as Christian, a recently separated, on-the-wagon alcoholic, who returns to his home town after spending 15 years in America, in order to attend the wedding of his estranged mill-owner father, Henry (Geoffrey Rush), to his much younger house-keeper, Anna (Fringe star Anna Torv).
With tensions already high, Christian confronts his father and uncovers a long-buried family secret that could have devastating consequences for the family of Oliver (Ewen Leslie), a boyhood friend of Christian’s and a former employee of Henry’s, who lives a blissfully laid-back life with his schoolteacher wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and their 15-year-old daughter, Hedvig (Odessa Young). But will Christian decide to reveal the secret or keep it to himself?
The performances are exceptional across the board. Schneider taps into a deep-seated resentment as Christian, as decades of hurt come rushing to the surface, while Leslie is extremely engaging as kind-hearted Oliver, creating warm chemistry with his co-stars. Rush underplays Henry to disarming effect and newcomer Young makes a striking impression as pink-haired Hedvig, the daughter of the title.
Stone’s control of the material is masterful throughout, creating agonising tension by continually delaying the inevitable and ensuring that we care deeply about each of the characters by the time all hell breaks loose. Similarly, by establishing Christian as an alcoholic, Stone wrings nail-biting suspense from having him fall off the wagon when he accompanies Oliver on a pub crawl to their old haunts.
Stone creates a strong sense of place, aided by some authentic location work and Andrew Commis’ lush cinematography, which takes full advantage of the local scenery. The film also employs some unusual sound design that significantly heightens the palpably tense atmosphere.
The script is intriguingly structured, engineering a clever shift of focus between the characters that’s subtly unsettling. However, it loses points for an on-the-nose wounded animal metaphor in the shape of a duck that’s been crippled by a blast from Henry’s shotgun and ends up being cared for by Hedvig and her softly-spoken grandfather (Sam Neill).
Ultimately, this is an extremely well made melodrama that cranks up the tension to unbearable levels before unleashing a devastating emotional onslaught. Have a stiff drink handy – you’ll need it.
The Daughter is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
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