Based on the 2016 novel of the same name by screenwriter Emma Donoghue, The Wonder is set in the 1860s and tells the story of Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy), a young girl in a remote Irish village who is healthy and happy, despite apparently not eating for four months. English nurse Lib (Florence Pugh) is summoned to the village to investigate this phenomenon. Lib grows closer to Anna over the course of her watch, but this bond causes friction between her and the girl’s family,
The Wonder’s script has a lot it wants to say, and is very unsubtle about saying it. Indeed, it starts with an opening narration that breaks down the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience, extolling the power of stories and explaining that the characters believe the story they are in. This makes for a bit of an off-putting first impression, but, generally, the writing is solid, telling its story efficiently and effectively without falling into the depths of melodrama.
The lack of subtlety in the script is balanced out by other aspects of the production, with the camerawork and sound design helping to incorporate the core motifs and themes more seamlessly into the experience and creating a sense of mystery and unease, regardless of the lack of mystery in the narrative intent. The cinematography and soundtrack bring out the ominous undertones of the setting and performances, creating a sense of claustrophobia and mounting tension that underlines the film’s themes fantastically.
Another thing that helps greatly is the immensely talented cast, who put in a lot of hard work to enhance the eerie atmosphere and give the key emotional beats significant impact. Florence Pugh is fantastic in the lead role, absolutely stealing the show with her portrayal of the conflicted and complicated character of Lib and painting a wonderfully messy portrait that speaks directly to the heart of the storytelling. Cassidy is a brilliant counterpart as Anna, and the two actresses play off each other wonderfully, bringing performances that are unsettling in distinctly different ways.
Overall, The Wonder is a great film, delivering effective character work and compelling drama. It’s maybe a bit too pleased with itself, but that’s not entirely unearned and, excluding some slightly superfluous and pretentious parts, is a deeply gripping cinematic experience that tells a clear message with style and substance.
The Wonder is released in select cinemas on 2nd November 2022 and on Netflix on 16th September 2022.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for The Wonder here: