Una (15) | Close-Up Film Review
Dir. Benedict Andrews, UK/USA/Canada, 2016, 92 min
Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Ruby Stokes
Review by Carol Allen
This is adapted from David Harrower’s successful two person play, which was first seen at the Edinburgh Festival 12 years ago, then went to the West End stage, followed by productions all over the world.
The two characters are the eponymous Una (Mara) and Ray (Mendelsohn). Fifteen years ago when Una was 13 years old she ran away with Ray, an older man, who was her father’s friend. Ray was arrested and imprisoned for having sex with a minor. Una is now a disturbed young woman, who is haunted not so much by a sense of sexual violation but by two questions. Why did Ray abandon her and were there other children he seduced or did he really love her and only her? She decides to track him down to the medical warehouse where he now works as a manager (under a new name, Peter) and confront him.
Australian Benedict Andrews is an acclaimed stage director – his productions in the UK include “Streetcar Named Desire” with Gillian Anderson and the current “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. This is his first film.
As a film adaptation of what on stage was a duologue this is only partially successful. The film enables Andrews to take us visually into Una’s memories and to show her in the past as well as the present. As a director he appears to relish the way the camera enables him to take you so close to the actor’s face and into their thoughts. The opening shows us Una as a child about to meet Ray, cutting powerfully to the obviously disturbed adult Una. The scenes of Una and Ray’s relationship we see played out in the past are not so much flashbacks as fragmentary memories which illuminate the present. The core confrontation between the two of them played out in the visually stark warehouse is powerful and works well.
What is less successful is the film’s efforts to flesh out the present and introduce other characters. Una’s mother (Tara Fitzgerald), Ray/Peter’s loyal work colleague Scott (Ahmed), his controlling boss (Tobias Menzies) and towards the end of the film, his wife Yvonne (Natasha Little). The cast list is huge for what is effectively a two character story and few of them have the opportunity to make any impact. They seem more to be distractions from that central confrontation, while the final scenes of the film, where Una forms a connection with Scott, resulting in a further public confrontation with Ray and Yvonne, seems tacked on and superfluous, not really taking us to any satisfactory conclusion.
As the title character Rooney is an effectively tense and tortured avenging angel, though as the film develops her ruthless persecution of Ray and apparent determination to destroy his life tends to lose her our sympathy, particularly in the last scenes of the film. This is however mitigated to some extent every time we go back in memory to young Una, who is beautifully played by Ruby Stokes.
In contrast Ray in a multi textured performance from Mendelsohn has taken his punishment and rebuilt his life. As the details of the past are revealed, he emerges as a complicated and much more sympathetic character than the situation would lead us at first to believe. Those same details raise the uncomfortable question as to what extent did Una create her own fate rather than being purely an innocent victim? Or were both of them in fact victims of each other?