A golden thread running through this year’s LFF selection is the question: “Do I want to be with this person or do I want to be them?” and the sincere flattery of imitation. It may be the fact that Thomasin McKenzie’s part in Last Night in Soho is still so present in our minds, or that Eileen’s press screenings immediately followed that of May December, but upon first glance the feature seems to be headed in a similar direction of two characters coalescing as one becomes fascinated with the other.
Diffident and somewhat plain, Eileen (McKenzie) is the kind of girl who drives to her town’s local hookup spots in order to watch people make out in their cars. Touch-starved as she is, the voyeuristic act alone causes her to overheat – not unlike her smoky vehicle. At the prison she works at, the wealth of young men surrounding her on a daily basis feeds her fantasies, but here too she keeps her distance. When the staggeringly glamorous Rebecca (Anne Hathaway in Marilyn Monroe get-up) is hired as the new psychiatrist, Eileen becomes increasingly infatuated with the blonde.
Due to the fact that the viewer is so thoroughly introduced to Eileen’s inner life and perceptions, the clash with other people’s reality of life creates an immensely satisfying setup for a hard turn that ultimately propels the film into an unexpected direction. A scene with a distressing confession threatens to overshadow the exemplary use of the Chekhov gun principle but the narrative technique leaves nothing to be desired.
McKenzie proves to be a casting jackpot: in a spot-on comparison, the protagonist’s face is likened to one found in Dutch paintings and behind Eileen’s meek observance lies an entire world of yearning. Hathaway is a joy to watch, even as the premise necessitates an outsider view on her at all times.
Lady Macbeth director William Oldroyd’s second feature is a felicitous adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s thriller, the film’s mood teetering somewhere between Carol and A Simple Favour.
Eileen is released nationwide on 1st December 2023.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.