Florence Pugh leads with her familiar power in this psychological thriller from Sebastián Lelio.
Based on the 2016 novel by Emma Donoghue, The Wonder follows Lib Wright (a Nightingale Nurse) sent to keep watch over Anna O’Donnell, who has proclaimed to be surviving off “manna from heaven”. She hasn’t eaten in four months when Lib arrives, and the two develop a bond over their shared grief and aching hearts. Proximity becomes the chosen language over words, where Lib and Anna come to understand one another through observation.
Florence Pugh leads with the same power she possesses in each role she has played in the past. Lib Wright is nuanced and intriguing, with authority among men formed through her commitment to her profession. Having to answer to a board of men comprised of Dr McBrearty (Toby Jones), Father Thaddeus (Ciarán Hinds) and other authoritative figures in the town, Lib holds her own. A testimony to the women of the time who knew so much but were invited to say so little, writers Alice Birch, Emma Donoghue and Sebastián Lelio bring in the details of the truth of history, such as women being the first to keep a written record of things as nurses.
The incredible BAFTA and Emmy winner Odile Dicks-Mireaux helps the actors breathe life into their characters through her spectacular costume design. Finding grounding in the weight of the costume, Pugh makes the dated feel contemporary as she trudges through mud, hands on hips, unraveling the mystery before her. Filmed in Dublin and on a sound stage, the wildness of Lelio’s imagination has space to play. Those who have seen his previous work will be unsurprised that his style has an opportunity to jump out once more where the surreal tangos with the real to build this deliciously complex reality.
Everyone understands the film they are making, with Niamh Algar potentially getting the most freedom to play with the meta-ness of the narrative, as Kitty O’Donnell. Elaine Cassidy plays Rosaleen O’Donnell, the real-life and on-screen mother to Kíla Lord Cassidy’s Anna O’Donnell. To see Kíla’s real-world mother play opposite her is a comfort, as Anna’s complex history carries an emotional weight. As the film’s title suggests, Kíla Lord Cassidy is a wonder opposite Florence Pugh, holding her own in every scene and giving one of the most compelling performances of the year. For this to be only her second credited feature film, she makes quite a statement.
Academy Award nominee Ari Wegner ought to scoop another nomination with her work on the film. The texture of each shot is stunning, and it builds upon this thrilling world that everyone is living inside. An eerie portrait is being painted, and something about how Wegner captures life in motion only adds to its splendour.
Its quiet power may go overlooked this awards season, but the cast and crew of The Wonder have made the hidden gem that ought to get its dues sooner rather than later. Lelio is one of the most exciting working directors, and with superstar Florence Pugh leading, it should meet its audience when it lands on Netflix.
Likely: Best Costume Design
Should be Considered: Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Director
Release Date: In Select Theaters Now; November 16th on Netflix
Where to Watch: In Select Theaters; Netflix
Makes movies and talks about them, too. Once gave Josh Gad a Diet Coke.
Favourite Directors: Greta Gerwig and Mike Mills
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