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Australia 2016
Directed by
Simon Stone
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

The Daughter

Synopsis: Henry Neilsen (Geoffrey Rush), wealthy owner of the local mill in an Australian logging town, is about to marry his much younger housekeeper, Anna (Anna Torv). His estranged son, Christian (Paul Schneider), returns from America for the wedding and reconnects with old school-friend, Oliver (Ewen Leslie), who is husband of local teacher, Charlotte (Miranda Otto), and father of Hedvig (Odessa Young), the daughter to which the film’s title refers. Full of hostility and resentment, Christian digs up a long-buried family secret.

Although based upon Henrik Ibsen’s play “The Wild Duck” which director Simon Stone adapted for theatre five years ago, this film, Stone’s debut, stands proudly on its own two feet as a gripping and gut-wrenching piece of cinema.

Familial and personal connectedness (and the lack thereof) is central to this film. Henry is generally disliked in the town with an aloof, even cold, bearing. When Henry decides to shut the mill after 100 years he seems to care little for the effect it will have on the town and its workers. Oliver is one of those workers but he has a likeable and optimistic nature, as well as a deep love for Charlotte and total adoration for Hedvig. His nature is in sharp contrast to the bitterness of his old pal, Christian.  Christian’s mother suicided years before (in circumstances shrouded in mystery) and he has been not only fighting off the booze since but is now going through a long-distance break-up with his girlfriend. So when he finds out the long-buried secret he assumes a moral self-righteousness that motivates him to reveal all heedless of the outcome. We can’t help but ask the question: “does the truth really make you free?”

Hedvig, as well as having an intense bond with her father, is starting a love affair with a local boy, Adam (Wilson Moore), and this causes confusion and grief. She is also strongly attached to her loving grandfather, Walter (compassionately played by Sam Neill). In the earlier parts of the film we are unaware of how pivotal Hedvig’s role will become in the narrative. Whilst the initial focus is upon the adults and their various interrelationships, gradually the focus moves to her and it is here that the emotional intensity really ramps up. Odessa Young, currently seen in Looking for Grace harnesses teen angst extremely well, Miranda Otto digs deep into some harrowing emotions, as does Ewen Leslie in a couple of memorable scenes that should definitely have the tissues out of your pocket.

The truthfulness of the scripting, along with the overall strength of the performances are two of The Daughter’s really powerful plusses but the film also impressively captures a sense of place similar to  other broodily intense Australian films such as Lantana and Jindabyne. There is a melancholy quality to the settings with the tall timbers of Tumut and Batlow in New South Wales providing a compellingly eerie setting for a dying logging town. The camerawork is splendid, alternating between wide scenic shots that show the Australian bush off to its best and tight close-ups with central framing which rivets the audience’s attention upon the characters’ emotions.

From its opening scene of Henry shooting down a duck to its final scene (which thankfully doesn’t neatly tie up ends), The Daughter is a spellbinding and deeply emotional experience reflecting top-notch film-making.




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