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What Maisie Knew

Directed by David Siegel and Scott McGehee

USA, 2012

Cornerhouse, 25 August 2013

What Maisie Knew

This is a fine, modern-day adaptation of Henry James’ classic novel, or maybe it’s a novella by his standards.

When Maisie’s monstrous parents (played by Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan, both excellent) are divorced, they squabble over her as over everything else.  In time, a Solomon-like settlement is reached.  She must spend a few months with one parent, then move on to the other, and so alternate between the two.  Never allowed to settle, she must adapt to each changing set of circumstances; a rollercoaster of estrangement and attachment.

The novel is told from Maisie’s point of view and – insofar as cinema can accomplish it – that’s true of this film too.  You get a very real sense of Maisie’s powerlessness, her all too precocious (and unsought for) introduction to the adult world, her sorrow and stoicism.  And the poverty of love forthcoming from her parents.

One time a friend from school comes to sleep over, but leaves later that night in tears.  She cannot cope with how Maisie is expected to live.  You have a story that’s in essence about abuse that is not recognised as such.

The ending is a little too cheery for my liking but all else, and above all Onata Apriles’ central performance, is a triumph.