Una (2016)

Una is a disturbing drama about a difficult and provocative subject that subverts conventional expectations. Directed by Benedict Andrews, written by David Harrower, it stars Rooney Mara and Ben Mendlesohn.

Damaged Lives

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Put simply, years later a young woman tracks down the man who was her abuser when she was 13 and confronts him at his workplace, where he has built a new life and identity. She’s Una, played by Rooney Mara (unexpectedly with a convincingly Gwyneth Paltrow-esque English accent), beautiful, intense, but also possibly disturbed. A chance sighting of his picture in a trade journal enabled her to find the man she knew as Ray, who is now calling himself Pete (a wonderfully ambiguous performance by Ben Bendelsohn). So nervous that she vomits on her drive there, she turns up at the vast, labyrinthine Amazon-type warehouse where he is a middle manager. Stunned and apparently appalled – or pleased? it’s ambiguous – at her sudden appearance, he quickly takes her into a staffroom to talk privately.

But what does she really want? The lines are very blurred. Is it closure, retribution, recompense or something completely different – is she driven by a lasting obsession with Ray? Ray was her next-door neighbour and a family friend when she was a child. Una still lives in the same house with her mother (Tara Fitzgerald). Is she so damaged that she’s unable to form ‘normal’ relationships? Was Ray actually a paedophile or – almost unthinkably – did they both believe that what happened was consensual? Who groomed who? Who abandoned who? This is the shifting moral ground screenwriter Harrower and director Benedict Arnold take us to as their story is told through flashbacks that alternate with highly emotionally charged scenes between the two. Ruby Stokes is superb as young Una – a knowing – as far as a 13-year-old can be – mixture of child and adult.

Una is David Harrower’s adaption of his own stage play Blackbird but in opening it out, it still betrays its stage origins. There’s a new subplot involving the warehouse that involves Pete hiding from his boss (Tobias Menzies) and a strangely underwritten part for Riz Ahmed as his faithful subordinate, who Una manipulates for her own ends: the action is also opened out to show Pete’s new family. But it’s the intense one-to-one scenes between Una and Ray/Pete that work best. They’re breathtakingly and disorientatingly transgressive at times and the flashbacks of their ‘relationship’ are a heartbreaking moral maze that sometimes leaves a churning distaste and sometimes sad confusion. Una is a beautifully acted, thought-provoking ambiguity that will leave you thinking about it long after you have left the cinema.

Una is released on 1 September 2017 in the UK.

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