Una

 

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A successful stage work yields an interesting but uneven film on a troubling subject.

 
Una
  

2005 was the year in which David Harrower saw his stage play Blackbird, a two-hander, given a premiere that would lead on to other stagings around the world. It also led to him being asked to adapt it for the screen and that is what now reaches us as Una, a first feature by the stage director Benedict Andrews. The film is not without impact aided by the fact that in the title role Rooney Mara gives a deeply impressive performance. Nevertheless, adapting the work has brought problems in its wake.

 

It would be easy to give a misleading impression of Harrower’s story. It concerns a confrontation between Mara’s Una and a man whom she has traced through a photograph to his job in a warehouse. The man (Ben Mendelsohn) is calling himself Peter, but she had known him as Ray when the two of them had entered into a sexual relationship despite the fact that Una had only been thirteen at the time (the young Una seen in flashbacks is played by Ruby Stokes). Given this context, audiences might well assume that this is going to be a drama about a rape victim seeking revenge on her abuser. However, Harrower is concerned to give us a situation much more complex than that and he provides us with a thoughtful and disturbing drama.

 

At a time when accusations of paedophilia often related to long past offences are so common, it is no bad thing to be reminded that, notwithstanding the terrible damage done in many such cases, the situation when sex takes place between an adult and a child can be very different. Here we eventually discover that Una’s dismay had been centred not on any assault but on the fact that Ray had failed to keep his promise to run away with her to the continent. While denying any general paedophiliac inclinations, Ray, subsequently given a jail sentence, had certainly done damage to Una, but more by letting her love him and in consequence causing emotional injury than by any forceful physical action (what he had done had been wanted and encouraged by the girl).

 

These are serious issues worth airing but, unless the viewer is well versed in the film’s subject matter before entering the cinema, the early scenes, if not exactly confusing, are certainly clumsy as they cut between scenes of the young Una and her adult self. Furthermore, in an attempt to avoid the potential claustrophobia of the stage play, Harrower’s film treatment brings in subsidiary characters without filling them out so as to make them effective (the most substantial role created here goes to the always admirable Riz Ahmed, but he has a thankless task). The weaker elements in the film are all too apparent and the frankness of the material will discourage some viewers. But Ben Mendelssohn’s performance is very well judged and, if this thought-provoking piece attracts you, you will be bound to admire Rooney Mara’s central portrayal. She does not hold back from showing Una as a menace at times, even if she is first and foremost a victim because the man she loved failed to discourage her inappropriate feelings.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Ruby Stokes, Tara Fitzgerald, Natasha Little, Tobias Menzies, Isabelle Molloy.

 

Dir Benedict Andrews, Pro Jean Doumanian, Patrick Daly and Maya Amsellem, Screenplay David Harrower from his own play, Ph Thimios Bakatakis, Pro Des Fiona Crombie, Ed Nick Fenton, Music Jed Kurzel, Costumes Steven Noble.

 

Westend Films/Film4.Creative Scotland/Bron Creative-Thunderbird Releasing.
94 mins. UK/USA/Canada. 2016. Rel: 1 September 2017. Cert. 15.