Aubrey Malone is pleased by ‘intelligent and cerebral film-making’
How I Live Now (15)
If this didn’t have a nuclear subtext it wouldn’t be too different from traditional stories of love and war. An outbreak of World War 3 – everyone’s perennial nightmare – give it dystopian edge that allows director Kevin MacDonald to dwell on moody skyscapes, atmospheric undertones…and, of course, Saoirse Ronan’s riveting face.
Ronan can say more with her eyes than most other actresses can in 20 pages of dialogue. One is drawn unequivocally to her whenever she’s on screen here as Daisy – which is most of the time.
When we first meet her she seems to be hearing voices. Is she schizophrenic? Does the fact that her mother died giving birth to her cause her to have excessive feelings of guilt? An American setting foot in Britain for the first time – she does the accent brilliantly, by the way – she undergoes a transition from pampered sourpuss to mature adult as a result of the war, a transition that absorbs many weird experiences, including the shooting dead of two arguably innocent men. The fact that the viewer can suspend credibility over such weirdness speaks volumes about the film’s hypnotic quality.
As well as Ronan, Harley Bird gives a totally captivating performance as Piper, an endearing child who’s also catapulted into a premature adulthood by the horrors of the war. (There are some very disturbing images of dead bodies in one scene, it should be noted).
The love interest is provided by Eddie (George McKay), a Lawrentian type of hero – strong, silent, elemental – whose absorption in things of the earth kick-starts Daisy’s reformation.
In some ways the early scenes between them, set against the backdrop of a higgledy-piggledy house where the children are allowed free rein (and in which a goat moves around apparently unnoticed) are the most compelling. If the terrorism theme didn’t intrude, there might even have been a more interesting story to be told about their relationship.
The film leaves many questions unanswered. Why does Daisy’s father not make contact with her throughout the film? Why does her aunt not come back into it after an early exit? How did her father deal with her mother’s death?
We’ve seen a lot of films about the terrible tragedies inflicted by war. Such tragedies make this one a lot darker than it might otherwise have been. And also, in my view, a lot more conventional. The early scenes are reminiscent of Wuthering Heights; the final ones of Jane Eyre. But in between it’s more Stanley Kubrick than the Brontés.
This is thoroughly intelligent and cerebral film-making with great care shown over every nuance and every frame. See it.