Thursday 20 April 2023

Film Review: The Wonder (2022)

Back in 2018, I reviewed Emma Donoghue’s 2016 nineteenth-century-Ireland-set novel, The Wonder, for this blog—check out my full review here. Today, five years on, I’m back with a post about the book’s film adaptation.

The Wonder (2022) is remarkably true to Donoghue’s novel and doesn’t resort to Hollywood theatrics to enhance the story. It stars Florence Pugh as the English nurse, Lib, and she’s the ideal actor to pull off the role. Despite the slight plot and limited setting, Pugh’s facial expressions alone are enough to keep our interest for nearly two hours. The filmmakers also do a great job conveying the moody atmosphere, which makes the genre of the movie initially difficult to pin down. Are we in a horror film or is this psychological horror? movie watchers might ask themselves in the first thirty minutes.

One result of the faithful adaptation is that my original criticisms of the novel still hold. The romantic subplot is underdeveloped, and Lib never sways in her rational beliefs, although I would have loved to see Pugh grappling with whether to accept a supernatural explanation for her patient’s lack of appetite. The movie also introduces a new problem—a slightly bizarre and meta frame story, that reminds us that we are watching actors, not real people. This was a strange choice, but these short opening and closing minutes do little to detract from what is an entertaining watch.

Overall, I’d recommend The Wonder to fans of costume dramas and Pugh, and anyone with an interest in nineteenth-century Ireland. I loved how the film emphasized the trauma of the Great Famine, placing a disturbing story about one child who refuses to eat in a wider cultural and historical context. Writers may also wish to compare the novel to the screenplay to understand how small changes can play to different media.

What nineteenth-century film would you like the Secret Victorianist to review next? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist

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