The Wonder

Peter Malone MSC 8 November 2022

Rural Ireland, 1862, after the great famine, an 11-year-old girl is the centre of devotion, surviving four months without eating and continually praying. An English nurse is brought into supervise her, proving her survival authentic.

THE WONDER, Ireland, 2022. Starring Florence Pugh, Kila Lord Cassidy, Tom Burke, Elaine Cassidy, Josie Walker, Caolan Byrne, Toby Jones, Dermot Crowley, Ciaran Hinds, Brian F O’Byrne. Directed by Sebastian Lelio. 108 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, a sex scene and infrequent coarse language.)

An unusual choice for Chilean director, Sebastien Elio (Gloria, Fantastic Woman, Disobedience, Gloria Bell). This is an Irish story – following the famine in 1862, set in a remote Irish Midlands village. The screenplay was written by Emma Donaghue (who also wrote the novel and screenplay exploring the confinement of a mother and child, Room).

The screenplay takes us into the world of Irish Catholicism, piety and prayer, the domination of the parish priest, and a grim tradition of asceticism. An 11-year-old girl, Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy, here acting with her mother portraying her film mother, Elaine Cassidy) has become something of a local wonder. She has not eaten for four months and is still surviving. People from roundabout come to visit her, amazed at her faith.

There is a local board with a variety of interests, political, medical, ecclesiastical, hoping that Anna is a wonder but deciding to bring in an English nurse and an Irish nun to take eight-hour shifts, closely watching and, taking notes, ensuring that all is authentic.

For the devout Irish, this is not impossible, God working in mysterious ways. For the sceptics, there is something wrong, there is some way in which the young girl is actually getting food to survive.

The nurse, Lib Wright, is played by Florence Pugh, frequently seen on screen these days in British productions as well as American – a versatile actress. She takes her work seriously, watches over Anna, records her progress, but becomes increasingly wary, forbidding family contact with Anna, accompanying her on walks in the countryside, bonding, but realises the young girl is actually dying. The local doctor (Jones) continually puts the nurse down as merely a nurse. The parish priest (Hinds) is of the old school of domination in God’s will. One member of the board is desperate that they have a local miracle.

The family cooperate but are critical, especially Anna’s mother. There is another factor, a reporter who grew up in the village (Burke), sceptical, wanting to submit his article to the newspapers, attracted to the nurse, and her asking him to be complicit in the plan that she has for rescuing Anna and saving her life.

For audience curiosity about Anna and her situation, there is an explanation. And, there is a way that the nurse attempts to save Anna.

Well acted, sombre in look and tone, taking us back to a severe Ireland.

Released 4 November cinemas, then streaming