Australia/95 minutes/4 stars
Henry (Geoffrey Rush), a man in his 60s, is the patriarch of a family who runs the sawmill in a small NSW town. Everyone in the district knows his family and most are employed at the sawmill. Henry is soon to be married to his former housekeeper, Anna (Anna Torv) who is thirty years his junior.
The wedding is a large affair although the only people invited from the town itself are Charlotte (Miranda Otto) a teacher at the local school, her husband Oliver (Ewan Leslie) a mill worker and their 16-year-old daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young). Their connection to the wedding is Oliver’s friendship with Henry’s adult son Christian (Paul Schneider). The pair were at university together twenty-years ago and Oliver is excited to be catching up with his old friend. Christian has been working in the USA and when he flies in for the wedding, it rapidly becomes clear that he has spent so many years abroad because he is estranged from Henry.
Christian puts everyone on edge. His is a restless presence and it seems he has scores to settle and is not too worried about collateral damage. Charlotte doesn’t trust him but says nothing. Largely oblivious to all of this is Hedvig. She concerns herself with her school friends and the menagerie of birds and rabbits that her grandfather (Sam Neill) keeps. The two families are opposites socially and financially, but their past and future are bound together by a secret.
THE DAUGHTER is a loose adaptation of Ibsen’s 1884 play, The Wild Duck. This is writer-director Simon Stone’s first feature. He directed a theatrical version five years ago for Belvoir St Theatre. Apparently the feature takes some elements from that production but is more naturalistic (the default mode of Australian film). It is completely unrelated to Henri Safran’s Edwardian-set Australian version of THE WILD DUCK (1983) starring Liv Ullman, Jeremy Irons and John Meillon
The strength of Stone’s modernized version is in the writing and performances. Despite some minor missteps towards the end, the director rarely puts a foot wrong in this impressive feature debut. The solid cast had two standouts, Ewan Leslie as Oliver and Paul Schneider as Christian. Despite his extensive theatre and television credits, I have somehow missed seeing Leslie in anything. I imagine he will be seen in higher profile roles after this. Schneider, who played Mark Brendanawicz on the first two seasons of Parks and Recreation (and always seemed miscast) is perfect as a neer-do-well, damaged son. When you realize what kind of pain the character is harbouring, you have concerns for the others. Odessa Young’s engaging performance as Hedvig has also garnered strong notices.
THE DAUGHTER is about the ways wealth and power can insulate people from the consequences of their actions. The movie is in Australian cinemas now in limited release. This is a well-made adult drama with an excellent cast.