DRAMA; 1hr 43min
STARRING: Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, Kila Lord Cassidy
Leap of faith: from left, Pugh and Lord Cassidy
In an isolated house in weathered, windswept rural Ireland in 1862, 11-year-old Anna O’Donnell (Lord Cassidy) has apparently survived without food for four months. Elizabeth “Lib” Wright (Don’t Worry Darling ’s Pugh) is a widowed English nurse, summoned by a bigwig local committee (Toby Jones and Ciarán Hinds included) to keep watch over Anna for two weeks, splitting the 24/7 shifts with a nun (Josie Walker) in order to determine what in the name of physical impossibility is really going on. Anna, who is alabaster-pale, devoutly religious and self-possessed to the point of unreadability, claims to exist on “manna from Heaven,” which confirmed sceptic Lib isn’t buying.
As Lib keeps her joyless vigil, carving out time for self-medicated, stuporous sleeps that point to her own dark past, Anna continues to starve herself. Her life otherwise is a soul-destroyer, enlivened only by visits from the worshipfully curious — to which her disapproving nurse promptly puts a stop — and the roaring flame of her faith. When not watching, waiting and urging her charge in vain to eat, Lib begins a relationship with a similarly sceptical journalist (Burke), which at least enlivens the sitch for a minute. But Anna is fading fast and neither her credulous doctor (Jones) nor her doting, grasping parents (Elaine Cassidy and Caolán Byrne) are inclined to intervene.
Keeping a lid on potential malarkey, director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria Bell ) and his plaintive wail of a score take a measured tone with the screenplay of Emma Donoghue’s 2016 novel, adapted by Donoghue (Room) with Lelio and Alice Birch. Leading the charge, Pugh is a beacon of containment in what swells to an ocean of grief — for when it does inevitably come to light, the truth of Anna’s prostration to faith is as shocking as the holiest of revelations.