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Seen through the eyes of a six-year-old, this film about the spectre of divorce makes for haunting viewing indeed. Directing team Scott McGehee and David Siegel (Bee Season) deftly transpose the 19th-century England of Henry James’ novel What Maisie Knew to modern-day Manhattan, and craft some remarkable gilded cages for their pint-sized protagonist (Onata Aprile).
Maisie might want for nothing materially, but the emotional vacuum created (or preceded?) by the increasingly vicious separation of her parents – fading rock star Susanna (Julianne Moore) and British art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan) – is nothing short of suffocating. This abandonment is put into sharper relief by the hasty remarriages on both sides, where the new, much younger partners Margo (Joanna Vanderham) and Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) are each quite literally left “holding the baby”.
Keeping the camera low to align the audience with Maisie’s perspective, McGehee and Siegel capture an absolutely astounding performance from young Aprile. Devastatingly natural, her largely observational role is complemented by a similarly compelling supporting cast. Moore in particular is blisteringly good in her rendition of a narcissistic rock chick, and while Coogan’s Beale is just as negligent, it’s a film that is fascinating to discuss and find out where your personal judgments fall.
What Maisie Knew opens in theatres August 22