Edinburgh Bites: What Maisie Knew Review

Mike Scurfield catches What Maisie Knew at the Edinburgh International Film Festival...

Aligning acutely-observed family dynamics with a sweet, playful innocence, What Maisie Knew superbly depicts the tumultuous effects of divorce from a wide-eyed, three-foot perspective. With six-year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile) at its narrative centre, opening scenes depict her playing contentedly while the expensively-decorated walls of her New York apartment echo with the sound of argument. The warring parents in question, emotional rock singer Susanna (Julianne Moore) and apathetic art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan), each want custody of their little girl, resulting in an extended battle that finds Maisie ferrying to and fro between parents, nannies and other temporary minders. Though it is clear both parents love her - a sentiment most often expressed as she is bundled off to the next carer - Maisie’s nomadic life bears more resemblance to that of an unwanted package; forwarded, forgotten and returned to sender.

Though deriving its story from Henry James’ 1897 novel, the tale is so contemporary by nature that this modern updating by screenwriters Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright barely registers as century-old material. What directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel add to the piece is a well-paced exposing of Maisie’s awareness surrounding her situation, plus a heartfelt radiance that lifts the film from downbeat separation drama to hopeful, even joyous, embracing of life’s unknowable journey. Later scenes featuring young nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) and Susanna’s rocker toy-boy Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård), positively beam with affection. Add to this, a phenomenal performance by Onata Aprile as Maisie, who lacks the knowingness of a well-schooled young thespian and instead glows with the genuine joy and unpredictable abandon of childhood, and you have a film that feels as real in its moments of high drama as it does in its sequences of casual domestic life.

What Maisie Knew is currently scheduled for an August 23rd release via Curzon Film World.

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out of 10

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