(director/writer: Sebastion Lelio; screenwriters: Alice Birch/screenplay & based on her book Emma Donoghue; cinematographer: Ari Wegner; editor: Kristina Hetherington; music: Matthew Herbert; cast: Florence Pugh (Lib Wright), Toby Jones (Dr. McBrearty), Kila Lord Cassidy (Anna O’Donnell), Tom Burke (Will Byrne), Elaine Cassidy (Rosaleen O’Donnell), Caoline Byrne (Maiachy O’Donnell), Ciaran Hinds (Father Thaddeus), Dermot Crowley (Sir Otway), Josie Walker (Sister Michael), David Wilmot (Sean Ryan), Niamh Algar (Kitty O’Donnell); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Tessa Ross/Juliette Howell/Ed Guiney/Andrew Lowe; Netflix; 2022-Ireland/UK/USA)
“It satisfies as a well-made psychological thriller.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The talented Chilean filmmaker Sebastion Lelio (“Gloria Bell”/”A Fantastic Woman”) is the director and co-writer with Alice Birch of this fascinating period mystery drama set in 19th century Ireland. It’s based on the book by Emma Donoghue. It tells of the old conflict science has with religion over matters of blind faith.
In 1862, in a small downtrodden village in the stark Irish Midlands, the 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy) stops eating for months and survives. Her act attracts crowds from all over the Irish countryside.
The town hires the nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) to observe Anna along with a local nun (Josie Walker), and make sure she’s well and not cheating. Anna triumphantly tells the doubters: “I live on manna from heaven.”
Local community leaders such as Father Thaddeus (Ciaran Hinds) and the medical provider, Dr. McBrearty (Toby Jones), want to know if this can be possible without cheating, as some locals think food is given to her secretly by her followers. Others think this is a faith-based miracle. Meanwhile the truth-seeking impartial nurse bonds with Anna, which puts her in the middle of a fiery dispute between science and religion.
Anna’s devout mother (Niamh Algar) fully believes her daughter has been blessed by God and calls out those out-of-town doubting visitors for not believing in miracles.
The situation becomes more murky as troubling details are leaked.
Pugh, in a terrific performance, displays a powerful presence, a curious mind for the truth and a vulnerability to things beyond her grasp. She keeps us glued to the screen as things get tense. While Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds elicit a depth in their characters that keeps things humming.
It leads to a big reveal, that packs an emotional charge, as it satisfies as a well-made psychological thriller.
REVIEWED ON 11/19/2022 GRADE: B+