Theatre director Simon Stone makes his cinematic debut with a highly emotional drama dealing with long-buried secrets, family feuds and fragile social connections. Set in rural Australia, it tells the story of Henry Neilson (Geoffrey Rush), a mill owner whose business is suffering a major setback and must close as a consequence. His imminent wedding to his young housekeeper is an occasion for Henry to reunite with his estranged son Christian (Paul Schneider) who has been absent since his mother’s death many years earlier. The tension between the two intensifies when Christian reconnects with his childhood friend Oliver (Ewen Leslie) and his family, and it gradually transpires that the ties between Henry’s household and Oliver’s are more deeply rooted than appears at first. Christian’s return proves to be a turning point in the lives of many, as his intrusion upsets the apparent harmony of the small town.
Based on Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, and more specifically on Stone’s own 2011 stage adaptation of it, The Daughter retains the original play’s poignancy and gains extra pathos by updating the setting and bringing the characters closer to the modern viewer. The story is centred around the idea that a person’s mistakes are rarely isolated events but that they inevitably cause a chain reaction that can work its way through generations. Although the narrative is somewhat predictable, it is still a pleasure to watch it unravel as the performances of the cast are laden with feeling. Rather than leave the audience with something to reflect on, the aim seems to be that of tugging at their heartstrings.
Stone’s main achievement is that this new adaptation works cinematically in a way that feels organic. He demonstrates a natural affinity with cinema and seems to celebrate it by making the most of the possibilities it affords. Highly intense and bordering on the melodramatic, the film captures the audience not only with its haunting mood but also with the superb cinematography. Stone brings out the best in his cast – especially from rising star Odessa Young and screen veteran Sam Neill – and manages to maintain total balance in the weight that each role holds, giving the impression that all are protagonists. A stirring adaptation from beginning to end, Ibsen’s graceful melancholy combined with Stone’s lyrical touch makes for a very strong directorial debut and a wonderful example of theatre successfully translated onto the big screen.
The Daughter does not have a UK release date yet. It is part of the official competition at the 59th London Film Festival.