Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Una

This 2016 film is based on a play by David Harrower called Blackbird and makes for pretty uncomfortable viewing in terms of subject matter, lifted to admiration by the performances of the three main leads and wonderful cinematography. Directed by Benedict Andrews, who up to now has mainly directed theatre pieces, we can see very clearly how this tight-knit story was indeed a play.

Some fifteen years ago, then aged 13, Una had a relationship for 3 months with her friend's dad next door. Clearly he was older than her and she, under the age of consent. She fell for him, loved him and couldn't control herself. He, however of course, should have done, following the rules society has set down in most of the civilised world. Ray, later Peter, was ultimately hauled in for his crime and served a difficult 4 years in prison paying society back for his deeds.

Peter, who has now changed his name and identity is remarried to a wife who knows the whole truth about his background. We join the story as he is tracked down by Una in her late 20's and most of the film is a dialogue between the two at his place of work as they find corners of a bleak warehouse to talk about what happened and their feelings surrounding the events. Much of this is littered with flashbacks as the viewer is welcomed into the head of the 13 year old Una. It is clear that older Una is emotionally scarred from the experience and has been unable to get past her feelings of love for the Ray/Peter.

The play/film is full of the glaring moral questions about whether or not Ray was a paedophile or whether it was true love which was acted upon inappropriately. There are clues scattered across the film as to what was in Ray's mind, which come out as we progress through to Peter and his current thinking. It's really a moral maze for the viewer to make up their own mind about, yes, because of the illegality and moral stance by society, but also as they try to understand what was in the heads of the pair of these characters back in the day.

The dialogue leads them both through the baggage they carry as they unpick the past and pick at the sores left behind. Peter is trying to protect his new life, at risk here of exposure and ruin, as Una grapples with her own emotion and stability. It's often harrowing, sad, emotional and angry as the leads play out the parts. Rooney Mara (Carol, Side Effects, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Ruby Stokes (most famous for stage work, notably Annie) are quite superb as the young and old Una. Mara portrays the older Una with convincing damage and emotion and Stokes, the younger, with innocence peppered with confusion and teenage angst - but also a maturity which could make some viewers start to question their own moral stance.

Australian Ben Mendelsohn (Girls, Rogue One) plays Ray/Peter behind a veil much of the time, ensuring that the audience works hard to see into his mind and work out his motives. To try to understand about him. Perhaps a monster, a victim, mentally ill. Maybe uncontrollably weak and human driven by love and urges which he should have known better than to explore. Tara Fitzgerald pops up once or twice as Una's mum, but she really didn't have much to do.

The clinical setting of the warehouse was used to great effect and impact by the cameras providing some visually interesting and often white, barren featureless views, maybe reflective of the cold and sterile approach which should have been adopted at the outset by Ray. It's an unsettling film and makes the viewer engage intellectually with what's going on, for which is gets top marks. It's full of dilemma and questions which need to be sorted out. The question is, what will happen with the pair of them when they meet after all this time. Will Una come to terms with her past? Will Peter be re-exposed as Ray to those who don't know? I'm making it sound like a thriller now, but it's really not. It is, however, highly recommended viewing.

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