Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck is adapted for the big screen and an unfamiliar Australian setting in this emotional drama. The script by writer/director Simon Stone begins innocently enough with the impending wedding of callous and troubled patriarch Henry (Geoffrey Rush) to his ex-housekeeper Anna (Anna Torv), a good 30 years his junior.
The age gap prompts understandable disbelief from his estranged son Christian (Paul Schneider), but there are few signs of the slow disintegration that will follow over the next 90 minutes. In fact, to begin with the tone is idyllic, thanks to two charming performances from Ewen Leslie as Oliver, an old family friend, and Odessa Young as Hedvig, his daughter. They make a witty pair, exchanging constant self-deprecating jokes and creating a father-daughter relationship that glows with love. Some of their joking feels improvised and it’s all the better for it; Stone’s script is at its weakest when trying to magic that naturalistic banter from thin air.
It is a shame though that Geoffrey Rush is relatively underused – despite his central role in the plot, his appearances are fleeting and he disappears almost altogether at the end when his presence would be perhaps most powerfully felt.
Stone has a cast-iron classic of a story to work with, and the plot is beautifully paced, delivering unexpected but plausible twists. The Wild Duck benefits from its trip down under, existing in its own space, not reliant on the source material, but weighty and confident enough to bear its influences.
Stone excels with his direction, which can’t be praised without also mentioning the editing from Veronika Jenet. Where Stone creates a troubled atmosphere, overcast by hidden secrets and pregnant with tension, Jenet weaves it together in an impressionistic way that often foregoes sync sound or singularity of place in a bid to build greater emotion.
It might have been wise to reconsider some of The Daughter’s more melodramatic moments, particularly those that dominate the film’s final 10 minutes. This finale feels out of place amongst the more sensible, grounded behaviour elsewhere in the film, and not enough is done to sell such a change in tone.
The Daughter is a strong adaptation, well worth watching for the fine direction from Stone and the performances from Young and Leslie. Even on the other side of the world, Ibsen’s classic play still retains its shattering power.
Words by Tom Bond