Film Review: Blackbird

Director Roger Michell’s drama Blackbird features a stellar cast on excellent form. 

Lily has a terminal illness and is in decline. She gathers her family together for one last weekend before she dies…

Focusing on a terminally ill woman who wishes to take her life before her condition worsens, Blackbird functions as a last supper for protagonist and her family. The film takes place over the course of a weekend, with characters looking with trepidation to the final goodbye with Lily.

A remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart (Christian Torpe writes this screenplay as well), Blackbird focuses on a difficult issue. Euthanasia is illegal where Blackbird is set, and the film deals with the agency of the individual as well as the spectre of mortality. As the weekend progresses, more issues come to light within the family dynamic. Michell explores these themes with a gentle touch. 

Despite the subject matter, Blackbird is not a total tearjerker. There are laughs to be had; Michell effectively balances light and dark. There are messages illuminated by the film, yet it is most interesting when it concentrates on the flawed and all too human characters at play. 

One of the aspects of Blackbird which stands out is the wealth of the family. The beautiful and spacious house, the fine wine, and the expectation of parents all point to a comfortable family. This is a film that does not cut across social strata; there is a privilege for Lily to take her life on exactly her own terms which would not be afforded to everyone in her position. 

Susan Sarandon delivers a solid performance as Lily. It is the supporting cast however, who do the heavy lifting. Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska are excellent as daughters Jennifer and Anna. Sam Neill, Rainn Wilson and Lindsay Duncan are also great. The ensemble cast really does elevate the film.

Blackbird tackles a tricky subject with both sobriety and humour. Roger Michell gets the best out of his cast. 

Blackbird is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: Una

Director Benedict Andrews’ Una is a drama that reveals its characters and narrative in an unravelling and competent manner. The film may veer towards the melodramatic, yet it excels in other ways.

Una, a young woman, travels to a warehouse to confront a man who used to be her neighbour. She wants to know what drove him to seek a relationship with her when she was just thirteen years old…

Written by David Harrower, based on his play Blackbird, Una is a drama about a difficult subject. The film tackles the area of paedophilia from the premise of a victim confronting her attacker many years after the event. The film features several flashbacks as the two main characters recollect past events.

The strength of Una is in the relaying of psychological effects of trauma. Protagonist Una feels a multitude of emotions. Given the content of the flashbacks, as well as Peter’s words, it is easy to see why what happened in her childhood has had such an effect later in life. Uncomfortable viewing at times, the film often compels. Nevertheless, it comes undone in the second half. The subplot seemingly intends to give more tension to the main interaction, yet this feels like an unnecessary addition.

Ben Mendelssohn gives a strong performance in a challenging role. Rooney Mara is also good, despite an uneven accent. Riz Ahmed is underused; his talents are not stretched in this minor role. Although the film breaks out of its space for the final third, the film does not depart majorly from its stage origins. The moving around in the warehouse may have been an attempt at differentiating from the play, yet tension may have been greater if this device had been employed less.

The final sequence adds friction certainly, however it heightens the disturbed aspect of protagonist. As a result, it feels like it cheapens a serious subject. Una is an engaging examination of a troubling relationship. The film it at its best when it underplays the theatrics.