Director: Benedict Andrews
Starring: Ruby Stokes, Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Tobias Menzies .UK. 1h 34m
David Harrower (based on his play “Blackbird”)
From its moody opening juxtaposed with PJ Harverys iconic Down By the Water there’s a clear insight into how dark and difficult Benedict Andrews drama is going to be. There’s a long and complicated tale that has to be adapted from stage to screen, one that describes a relationship that too many of us couldn’t fathom and even after watching the sterling performances, it’s still a tainted pill to swallow.
Starting at the very beginning, when Una is a child and innocently packs her things to run away with her adult boyfriend Ray, the two have a brief encounter and Ray leaves her stranded. A fiery court case follows with the bewildered Una who just wants her lover back and the ashamed Ray who’s more concerned about his future behind bars. Several years later Una turns up on Ray’s doorstep… It’s never really clear what Una is after, her core is her inner child still, lost and abandoned, and wanting to be with Ray by whatever means but unaware why.
Mara is completely compelling as a young woman attempting to deal with the strange gap in her life. When she was young and vulnerable she thought she understood what love meant and this was all taken away with Ray’s incarceration, and the girl seemed to have been swimming around in a confusing limbo. like a ghost emerging from the dark, Ray is equally confused and together their emotions spiral out of control like a pair of eternal star crossed lovers wanting each other and realizing that they can never be together and Mendlesom is terrific at being the man who wants to do the right thing, one who’s learnt from his mistakes but is constantly fighting dark urges. Togehter the dance a beautiful waltz through love, hate, fear and terror and the pair are top contender for the best performences of 2016.
For the most part Una feels like an extended version of David Harrowers play, the Blackbird. Andrews has taken the one epic confrontation scene and paced it through a few encounters, each one digging deeper into the uncomfortable entanglement as Una turns up at Ray’s job and later his home. Her tapeworm antics are almost as intrusive as Ray was to her innocence a decade prior. The original play was based on true events, the former US Marine Toby Studebaker, did in fact groom a 12 year old British girl in 2003
If the aim of the movie was to allow its audience to slowly dive into and mentally process a delicate situation that would turn most stomachs then it’s a total success. No one really wants to get into the mind of a sex offender, but we learn that Ray is human underneath. We also want to sleep with peace knowing that the children who are abused get help and aren’t going to struggle with understanding what genuine love is, after an ordeal like this, but here’s Una still struggling with her “relationship” with ray. Una has learn some nasty tricks growing up, using her looks and sex to manipulate men, and yet she’s still so fragile in her self that she often can’t complete the task successfully.
I don’t know anything about you except you abused me.-Una
The film kinda ends with Una drifting off into the darkness like a distant memory. She’s off on another adventure maybe, possibly she’s got the answers she seeks but what do we learn from her process? It really could have championed anyone who’s suffered this way, or even asked those who have had crazy impulses to seek help but Una seems to want us to feel safer in the idea that this might never have happened.
From Andrew’s soft touch on a harsh story and the backup of an excellent and small team of proficient actors, Una will enlighten those who can stick with it, however the film is incredibly slow paced and often leaves its audience hanging much like the young Una. There are no easy answers here and there’s certainly no confort.
Related: Hard Candy (2005).
Spotlight: Ben Mendelsohn,