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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

May 3, 2023



WE WATCHED “The Wonder” on Netflix simply because it stars Florence Pugh who we honestly believe is one the most exceptional young actresses today. 

The film is based on the 2016 novel by Emma Donoghue (who also co-wrote the script) and directed by Sebastian Lelio, the Chilean director who helmed the Oscar best foreign language-winning film “A Fantastic Woman”.

The film starts with the camera panning on a modern film studio then zooms in to a period set, with the voice over narrator saying: “The people you are about to meet, the characters, believe in their stories with complete devotion. We are nothing without stories. So we invite you to believe in this one.”

The story is inspired by the a real life phenomenon in Ireland in the 19th century Victorian Era called “the fasting girls.”  

Set in 1862, we see Elizabeth Wright or Lib (Florence), an English nurse who has served in the Crimean War, on board a boat going to Ireland. 

She is hired to observe an 11-year old girl, Anna O’Donnell (Kila Cassidy), who had stopped eating but has managed to live without food miraculously for four months. Some folks already think that she is a saint.

Lib is supposed to report her findings to a committee of five men led by a priest (Ciaran Hinds.) 

She will alternate with a nun (Josie Walker) in watching over Anna, but it looks like the nun is not given that much importance as Lib.

Anna’s family lives in a remote cottage and Lib meets Anna’s very religious mother Rosaleen (Elaine Cassidy), her dad Malachi (Caolan Byrne) and her sister Kitty (Niamh Algar), who is the film's narrator. 

She learns that Anna has an older brother who had died earlier. 

Lib stays in a lodging house in the town and she meets a man whose whole family died in the recent Great Famine that killed millions, Will Byrne (Tom Burke), a journalist. 

He is assigned to write about Anna’s story, which he actually thinks is a hoax.   

Lib herself is mourning the death of her own child. Anna opens up to Lib and confides to her that her dead brother raped her repeatedly since she was nine years old. 

She thinks his death is God’s way of punishing him. But she believes her fasting and prayers will free her brother’s sinful soul from hell. 

Lib noticed that when Anna’s mom kisses her good night, she is actually transferring food from her mouth to Anna’s mouth. 

She reports this to the committee but the members do not believe her. Anna swears what sustains her is ‘manna from heaven’.  

Anna’s mom stops giving food to her through her kisses and Anna’s health deteriorates. 

He mom says that after Anna’s death, she is sure both Anna and her brother will be in heaven.

Lib is desperate to save the girl and she asks the help of Will to save her. How they do this will surely be a spoiler so we’d stop here.

This period drama is handsomely mounted with adequate production design, the fine cinematography and musical score, but the one who really holds it all together is the very committed performance of Florence Pugh who is truly compelling in so many scenes.

Lelio’s direction is properly filled with dark atmosphere and religious foreboding, with some of its characters full of morbid secrets and festering evil. 

The film seems to pose the question of faith and religious fanaticism versus science to the viewer, but as Lib’s suspicions grow, it seems to say that we should just all be cautious of spiritual hypocrisy. 

It is to Florence’s credit that whatever role she plays, she just seems to have the astuteness to get away with, just like in the lousy “Don’t Worry Darling”. 

She did a supporting role in a Marvel movie and nearly stole it from Scarlet Jo who plays the title role of “Black Widow”. Here, she plays the principled Lib without any hysteria but very willfully.

Lelio’s direction is very minimalist and understated, deliberately making the movie a very slow burn. 

We just don’t know why he frames the movie with the camera starting and ending  while focused on a stagesound studio. We think it’s a superfluous and unnecessary device.