The Daughter Review
Christian (Paul Schneider) returns to Australia from America. His mother is dead and his father Henry (Geoffrey Rush) is marrying a younger woman, Anna (Anna Torv). Meanwhile, the sawmill which Henry owns is closing down, making its workers redundant. While in town, Christian bumps into his old friend Oliver (Ewen Leslie), son of Henry's former business partner Walter (Sam Neill) and married to Henry's former housekeeper Charlotte (Miranda Otto). Oliver and Charlotte have a teenage daughter, Hedvig (Odessa Young). However, a drunken evening with Oliver, following Christian's wife's telling him she's leaving him, lets out a secret about the past which will have devastating consequences...
As well as being an actor (appearing in Kokoda, Jindabyne, Balibo and The Eye of the Storm, among others), Simon Stone has had a parallel career as a theatre director. One production of his was in 2011, of Ibsen's The Wild Duck. His only previous directing work for the cinema was the “Reunion” segment of the portmanteau feature The Turning and for his feature debut he has written and directed a modern-dress spin on the play.
The story has been relocated from nineteenth century Norway to present-day New South Wales, a land of muted autumnal colours in Andrew Commis's cinematography. The film takes a little while to trace the complex set of relationships between the characters before secrets which may have best been left to rest are revealed...and needless to say I won't be revealing them here. Yes, there is a wild duck – one wounded by Henry's shot and tended back to health by Hedvig – and that's the most heavy-handed symbol in a film which for the most part is commendably subtle.
The new title is The Daughter and it's with Hedvig – the only character name held over from the play – that the film has its centre, and on whom the plot developments play themselves out. The film would be much less without the luminous performance of Odessa Young, only sixteen at the time of making the film. She had made short films and television as far back as 2007, but this is only her second cinema feature. (It follows Looking for Grace, which opened in Australian cinemas at the end of January 2016 and is worth looking out for, though at present a UK release seems doubtful.) She's clearly not overwhelmed by the prospect of acting alongside such a high-powered adult cast. Expect some awards recognition next year, if maybe only in Australia. Her performance is the centrepiece of a very well acted and finally quite moving film.