Relocating Ibsen’s The Wild Duck to the Australian outback, Simon Stone’s The Daughter remains an intense but stagey melodrama.
Duck Seasonby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The Daughter transposes Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck to an oppressively forested Australian logging town, a suitably Nordic environment for this drama. The film version is written by first-time director Simon Stone, who also directed Ibsen’s play on stage, and stars some impressive names for a debut filmmaker. But although the film opens up glorious wide landscapes and locations, thanks to cinematographer Andrew Commis, the screenplay and acting remain stagey and melodramatic.
The daughter of the title is pink-haired Hedwig Finch (Odessa Young), retaining the same name as in Ibsen. She is caring for a (symbolic) wild duck shot and wounded by Henry Nielson (Geoffrey Rush), the owner of the local saw mill, the main local employer, which he has just announced he is closing. Among the workers there who will lose their jobs is Oliver Finch, Hedwig’s father. Though one family is well-to-do and the other not, the Finch and Nielson families have been entwined over time in many ways – some overt, some hidden.
Oliver’s father Walter (Sam Neill, underused in a more natural performance) used to be Henry’s business partner until he took the blame for him and went to jail for a financial irregularity and now seems to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Henry is about to be married to his much-younger housekeeper (Anna Torv) and his estranged son Christian (Paul Schneider) returns from America for the wedding. He and Oliver had been close friends since childhood until he left. And when they reconnect, Christian learns that Charlotte (Miranda Otto), Oliver’s wife, had been Henry’s previous housekeeper.
Christian’s arrival upsets the delicate balance of relationships in both families. In fact, as he resents his father’s remarriage, that’s his intention in coming back. With his own drink and marital problems, and still damaged by the suicide of his mother, Henry’s first wife, he’s on a mission. Maybe it’s revenge, or maybe, as he claims, it’s to uncover the truth. And viciously and painfully, amid histrionics, a long-hidden family secret is revealed on the night of the wedding, which triggers a tragedy, the younger generation suffering from the misdeeds of their parents. Will that wounded duck fly again?
Outside of the main plot, other strands are opened up, but left unsatisfyingly unexplored – the effect the closing of the mill has on the town, Walter’s mental state and Hedwig’s budding romance with Adam (Wilson Moore), in her class at school, whose family abruptly leave town. It’s a dark film, visually and emotionally. Strong performances ramp up a constant high level of intensity which could perhaps have benefited from more contrast.
The Daughter is released on 27th May 2016 in the UK