A tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.
Set in 1850s rural Ireland, ‘The Wonder’ is a psychological period drama about an English nurse who is sent to Ireland to observe Anna, a girl who has apparently gone 4 months without consuming any food. Is this all a giant hoax? Could it possibly be real? These are the questions posed in Sebastian Lelio’s latest movie, and these are the questions explored by Florence Pugh’s Lib, who is a nurse still damaged by her experiences in the Crimean War. Like most movies she is in, this is Pugh’s movie, and she is great even when the screenplay doesn’t quite bring together its themes successfully.
A council of local dignitaries in an Ireland just recovering from the famine have been made aware of this supposed miracle, and to verify the claims, have decided to look at it from a medical and spiritual lens, by hiring Lib and a nun to observe at different times. A classic ‘man of science vs man of faith’ type approach. Lib is first introduced to Anna and her family, where she learns that they are deeply religious and still carry the scars of her brother’s death and the wider trauma caused by the famine on the community. Lib is naturally sceptical that Anna could survive such a fast, and her scepticism is bolstered when she encounters and bonds with a local journalist who has came back to his home town to report on Anna for the Daily Telegraph. When she witnesses what she perceives to be the families covert approach to feeding Anna, Lib reports back to the dignitaries, who appear unwilling to believe her.
‘The Wonder’ unfolds from this initial setup, exploring the effect of trauma on rural communities and how that desire for any sign of hope can lead them to believe in miracles and distrust outsiders to the community. Lib gets this, and through Pugh’s powerhouse performance, fights back and realises her true purpose is to protect a young girl who very well might die if she does not start eating properly again. I think some of the way this unfolds was a little less than subtle, and the denouement doesn’t carry as much power as Lelio is aiming for, but with Florence Pugh back in period times where she first came to my attention in ‘Lady Macbeth’ and delivering such a mesmerising lead display, ‘The Wonder’ is very much worth checking out on Netflix now.
Directed By: Sebastián Lelio
Starring: Florence Pugh, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Tom Burke, Niamh Algar, Elaine Cassidy, Caolán Byrne, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, David Wilmot, Josie Walker, Ruth Bradley, Brian F. O’Byrne and Dermot Crowley