Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Sebastián Lelio
1860s Ireland, English nurse Lib (Florence Pugh) is sent to Ireland to watch over a young girl (Kíla Lord Cassidy) who remains perfectly healthy despite not having eaten for several months.
The Wonder pitches itself as going into a number of different tonal directions as it begins to establish the working relationship between English nurse Lib (Florence Pugh) and young Irish girl Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy). Lib has been sent to Ireland to observe Anna who remains perfectly active and healthy despite not having eaten for several months. While her job is to watch over and report anything back to the elders of the town her own inquisitive nature begins to take action as she tries to get to the bottom of what’s really going on.
Anna’s claims of “I don’t need to eat. I live on manna. From Heaven” bring in a short burst of near-supernatural horror which dies down quickly as the film also abandons much mystery and ambiguity in favour of a direct period drama. Lib’s perspective is very matter-of-fact and simply presents events as they unfold with little questioning about what might or might not be real. The religious angle may still be played into every now and then but it never feels strong enough to lean back into something more genre-based, instead playing out as more of a character detail for Anna and her family.
It’s one of a handful of elements which appear to be dropped over the course of the film. Niamh Algar somewhat narrates the film; voicing the opening as the camera pans across a soundstage before zooming into the main set and the world of the film, yet her early reminders that ‘this is a story’ are almost entirely forgotten about until much later into the run-time. There’s plenty to be interested in and engaged by throughout the rest of the narrative’s course, but certainly it leans more into directness than the early stages perhaps hint at.
Amongst this there are strong performances from the central cast, particularly, as everyone has come to expect by now, Florence Pugh. Pugh effectively navigates the flow of the film and its occasional cracks and displays of other tones, genres and potential ambiguity with a consistent performance which helps to keep you engaged in how things are going to pan out.
After their initial meeting Lib initially battles with Tom Burke’s Telegraph journalist as they debate what may be the force keeping Anna alive, particularly as she begins to fall ill during Lib’s personal investigation. It’s another element that brings in a sense of slight confliction and mystery before somewhat dropping – although this one does crop up more often than others throughout the film. A number of elements appear to be brought up and dropped in the early stages of The Wonder. While some attempt to break through it largely continues down the lines of a direct period drama, but at least one which, with an intentionally gradual pace, generally holds interest and engagement.
It may only offer glimpses of more genre-based tones and ambiguity but thanks to a set of good performances at the fore The Wonder proves to still be an engaging period drama amongst its directness and intentionally slow-burn nature.