Tag Archives: Jessie Buckley

You’ve Got Hate Mail

Wicked Little Letters

by George Wolf

Long before you could hide behind a keyboard and avatar, a small English village was scandalized by some expert-level anonymous trolling. Wicked Little Letters tells us that story is “more true than you’d think,” and rolls out a stellar ensemble to elevate the tale at nearly every turn.

It is the 1920s in Littlehampton, England, where unmarried Edith Swan (Oscar winner Olivia Colman) still lives with her parents (Timothy Spall, Gemma Jones). Edith is known to be a dutiful daughter and devout Christian, so town tongues are wagging when she begins to receive hateful and profanity-laced “poison pen” letters in the mail.

Who could be behind such unwarranted vitriol?

Whaddya bet it’s that filthy Irishwoman Rose Gooding (Oscar nominee Jessie Buckley)?

Rose is frequently loud, drunk and vulgar. Plus, she’s a war widow (or is she?) with a young daughter (Alisha Weir from the upcoming Abigail), a “reputation” and a live-in boyfriend (Malachi Kirby).

Throw in the recent falling-out with Edith, and that’s enough for the town Constables (Hugh Skinner, Paul Chahidi), who arrest Rose and quickly schedule a show trial.

But “Woman Police Officer” Moss (Anjana Vasan) isn’t convinced, and she risks her position by continuing to investigate the letters on her own.

Director Thea Sharrock (Me Before You, The One and Only Ivan) and first-time screenwriter Jonny Sweet don’t craft a “whodunnit” as much as they do a “whoproveit” and a “whydunnit.” The real culprit is revealed fairly early on, and the film tries to balance some British wit atop heavier themes of repression, equality, and the sanctimonious crowd who are all preach no practice.

It’s historically interesting and well-meaning enough, but it reveals Sweet’s TV background through a light and obvious romp that’s rescued by heavyweight talent.

Colman, Buckley and Spall are all customarily splendid, each making up for the lack of nuance in their characters with some livid-in conviction and natural chemistry. Plus, Vasan stands out in the winning supporting group as the overlooked and underestimated W.P.O. Moss.

So while it’s lacking in the bite needed to leave a lasting impression, think of Wicked Little Letters as an extended cat video, one just amusing enough to take your mind off of all those nasty comments from the keyboard warriors.

Blinded by Science


by Hope Madden

Nearly a decade ago, Yorgos Lanthimos delivered the most scathingly, cynically hilarious look at the human desire to quantify love, test it, find safety in it. And if not, be turned into a delicious crustacean.

Cristos Nikou’s delivery is more romantic, but his central theme is similar. Love is unquantifiable.

In a non-specifically retro time period with wall phones and a lot of 80s and some 90s jams but computers that look to be from the time of the dinosaur, one company has perfected a test to determine whether two people are in love. This test, it was hoped, would end divorce, end loneliness, end unhappiness. But most couples test negative, so it’s actually only created a loneliness crisis.

Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) are among the lucky ones. They tested positive some time back, and have fallen into a safe and predictable routine. And yet…

Anna takes a job at the very institute where the test is conducted, working alongside Amir (Riz Ahmed). That right there is the reason to see Fingernails.

Buckley’s a tremendous talent. Few actors so accurately, achingly portray yearning quite as she does. That conflict plays across Anna’s face in a raw performance matched by Ahmed’s. The Oscar winner shares electric chemistry with Buckley, which compels interest in a story that, while delightfully told, lacks a bit of depth.

White, in a smaller role, delivers as well. You can’t root for him, but neither can you root against him. He feels human, and complicating the emotion within a romantic film is never a bad idea.

Nikou’s elegant direction slides and dances from scene to scene, evoking melancholy one moment then swooning the next. It’s so beautifully shot that the occasional obvious moment – lingering on one toothbrush, holding on a reaction shot – stands out.

The trajectory is rarely in doubt and the film leaves much to mine when it comes to its premise. But whatever the weaknesses of Fingernails, Ahmed and Buckley and their thrilling rapport more than overcome.

She Said/She Said

Women Talking

by Hope Madden

“Maybe sometimes people confuse forgiveness with permission.”

With nuanced writing and what may be 2022’s finest ensemble, Women Talking, the latest from filmmaker Sarah Polley, delivers quiet, necessary insight.

Polley invites us to witness a secret gathering of women. A select group from an isolated religious community has been chosen to make a decision for the entire sisterhood: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.

For as long as any of them can remember, the women of the flock have been sexually preyed upon and told that they were wrong – they were lying, imagining it, or in league with demons. And they believed this, more or less, until one attacker was caught in the act. Now, while the men are in town bargaining for the release of the attackers, the women must come to a consensus about what to do next.

Think of it as 12 Angry Men, only not all of them are angry and not one of them is a man.

The entire cast is miraculous. Rooney Mara delivers an unusually gentle performance, while Frances McDormand (who also produces) leaves a heavy weight with her few moments onscreen.

Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy are both on fire, one angry at everyone, the second angry enough at the men for everyone. The way Polley, who adapts Miriam Toews novel with Toews, unveils each individual’s motivations is remarkable. Her camera and script linger over moments of compassion and consideration. Women Talking dwells here, as if to point out that these women will offer each other everything the men they know would not.

Polley shows respect for these women – not just for their bodies, their agency, their humanity. She shows uncommon respect for their faith. This is what every faith-based film should look like.

Though dialog-heavy (as you might expect, given the title), the film never feels stagnant. A languid camera emphasizes the lovely tranquility of the community when the men are absent, but Polley generates palpable tension as time ticks away and the women’s opportunity to make a decision draws to a close.

Women Talking is a quietly stunning achievement and a reminder of the power of dialog and respect.

Gods and Monsters


by Hope Madden

Alex Garland bats 1.000 with his third feature, Men, a terrifying look at the complicated aftermath of trauma.

Jessie Buckley (flawless, as always) plays Harper, a woman in need of some time alone. She rents a gorgeous English manor from proper country gentleman Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) and plans to recuperate from, well, a lot.

Garland unveils Harper’s backstory little by little, each time slightly altering our perception of the film. The more about Harper we learn, the more village folk we meet: vicar, surly teen, pub owner, police officer, and a naked man in the woods. Each is played by Kinnear—or by actors sporting Kinnear’s CGI face—although Harper never mentions this, or even seems to notice.

Is she seeing what we’re seeing?

All is left open to interpretation. An easy read, given Kinnear’s multiple roles, is simply that all men are the same. And while each of Kinnear’s characters represents a specific and common type of male threat, as bizarre reality begins tipping further into outright fantasy, it seems likelier we are seeing more of Harper than we are of men in general. She is putting a face—the same face—on a lifetime of traumas, large and small.

Garland’s bold visuals—so precise in Ex Machina, so surreal in Annihilation—create a sumptuous environment just bordering on overripe. The verdant greens and audacious reds cast a spell perfectly suited to the biblical and primal symbolism littering the picture.

Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s score meshes with Garland’s lush imagery, releasing a blend of music, ambient sound and, at its most eerily beautiful moments, Buckley’s voice. The result is powerful and unnerving.

Men is more of a head-scratcher than either of Garland’s previous films. Yes, even Annihilation. It’s far more of a horror film, for one thing, and far less of a clearly articulated narrative. Rather than clarifying or summing up, the film’s ending offers more questions than answers. But if you can make peace with ambiguity, Men is a film you will not likely forget.

A Day at the Beach

The Lost Daughter

by Hope Madden

Unnerving intimacy marks Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut as a feature director, The Lost Daughter.

The veteran actor moves behind the camera to capture a weeklong holiday in Greece. Leda (Olivia Colman) lounges seaside and scribbles notes for another book. Little work gets done, though, thanks to the very large, very wealthy, very rowdy family that crowds the beach each day, but one member of that family sends Leda’s mind reeling back to her own youth.

Jessie Buckley’s young Leda captures the rich and volatile version of the woman Colman delivers on the beaches of Greece. The two performances never mirror or mimic each other. Rather, Buckley’s frustration and passion inform the reflective but still impetuous middle-aged woman taking stock of her life.

An actor whose unerring talent feels effortless, though no doubt it is not, Gyllenhaal draws that same kind of vulnerable, raw performance from her leads. Both versions of Leda surprise with a balance of moments, both ugly and dear. Anger lies behind their eyes, as well as longing and the regrettable loneliness of an outsider.

Colman conveys enormous emotional weight with her physical performance. The way she holds herself, the expressions that linger on her face, the changes in her gait—all of it articulates the particular suffering of this human in a way dialog never could.

Gyllenhaal frames the film as if to point out that the story is there, and is important, but of equal value is the way Leda sees the life unfolding around her. The approach is genius but unforgiving. A lesser cast could peter out with this level of attention. Luckily for all of us, Gyllenhaal’s uniformly subline cast (which includes Dakota Johnson and Ed Harris, both marvels) meets the challenge.

The deliberate camerawork in The Lost Daughter crafts a disquieting spell. Whether so close to an embrace you can almost smell the baby shampoo, or holding a distant glance at a stranger long enough to ensure its discomfort, Hélène Louvart’s cinematography disconcerts — as it did in Eliza Hittman’s 2020 treasure Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

Adapting Elena Ferrante’s novel, Gyllenhaal challenges romantic preconceptions about motherhood (sometimes quite bitingly, thanks to lines delivered with acidic precision by the remarkable Colman). The film acknowledges what is given up, what is lost, when you essentially transfer ownership of yourself—your time, your attention, your future—to someone else, to your children. The theme is deeply and honestly felt, and that, too, is unnerving.

Dolittle Jones


by George Wolf

Man, when I was a kid I wanted a Pushmi-Pullyu so bad.

I would try to get all the way through “If I Could Talk to the Animals” without messing up a lyric, and imagine how fun it would be to get one of those mythical Pushmis delivered in a crate, just like Rex Harrison in 1967’s original Dr. Dolittle.

Over thirty years later, Eddie Murphy ditched the tunes for a more straightforward comedic approach in two franchise updates, and now Robert Downey, Jr. steps in to move the doctor a little closer to Indiana.

Jones, that is.

But’s it’s Indy by way of Victorian-era Britain, as Young Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) calls on the famous animal-taking doctor with a dispatch from Buckingham Palace and an urgent plea to help the deathly ill Queen Victoria herself (Jessie Buckley).

As suspicions arise about Royal Dr. Mudfly (Michael Sheen) and the true nature of the Queen’s ills, Dolittle and friends (some human, most not) set sail on a grand adventure to acquire the cure from King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who just happens to be the father of Dolittle’s dear departed Lily (Kasia Smutniak).

Plus, there’s a big dragon.

Director/co-writer Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) re-sets the backstory with an animated fairy tale, then ups the ante on action while letting Downey, Jr. and a menagerie of star voices try to squeeze out all the fun they can.

From Emma Thompson to John Cena, Octavia Spencer to Rami Malek, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes and Kumail Nanjiani to Selena Gomez and more, the CGI zoo juggles personalities, while Downey curiously chooses a whispered, husky delivery that sometimes makes his Do a little hard to understand.

But, of course, he still manages to craft an engaging character, even centering the Dr. with a grief just authentic enough for adults without bringing down the childlike wonder.

This is a Dr. Dolittle set on family adventure mode, with plenty of talking animal fun for the little ones and a few clever winks and nudges for the parents. But as the start of a possible franchise, it’s more of a handshake than a high-five. It may not leave you with belly laughs or tunes stuck in your head, but it’s eager to please manner doesn’t hurt a bit.

Glasgow Skyline

Wild Rose

by Matt Weiner

“Three chords and the truth” is the driving spirit that runs throughout Wild Rose. It’s the reason aspiring country singer Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) doesn’t just love the genre, she lives it. She has it tattooed on her arm, and her dream of Nashville superstardom buoys her otherwise dreary working-class life in Glasgow.

It’s also an apt quote to hang the movie on. From the opening setup, you already know the notes and you know the progression.  But darned if Buckley doesn’t still have something to say, and in a voice that can’t be ignored.

Buckley (Taboo, Beast) animates every frame as Rose-Lynn, fresh from a year in jail for drug charges and defiant at anyone and anything that comes between her and the country fantasy world she has built her life around.

This includes her long-suffering mother and two young children. Far more supportive is her new employer, the posh Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), who hears Rose-Lynn singing while cleaning her house and encourages her to send a recording to the BBC.

Of course Susannah’s support comes at the expense of Rose-Lynn hiding pertinent background details, and it’s this central tension between following your dreams and making a life of what you already have that concerns most of the drama.

But even if Rose-Lynn’s path is a familiar one, the movie (written by Nicole Taylor and directed by Tom Harper) still imbues her arc with touching consideration and naturalistic ups and downs. Thanks in large part to Buckley, who brings a gut-wrenching humanity to each inevitable screw-up, it’s a journey that is compelling and well-earned—no small feat for the kind of story where at least some cathartic triumph is the payoff we expect for all those bumps along the road.

Wild Rose raises some truly thorny questions about the pursuit of art and the expectations surrounding that. While Rose-Lynn’s story arrives at an answer a bit too neatly, it’s no less catchy of a refrain. There’s a reason that Nashville sound churned out so many hits.




by Hope Madden

An outsider love story, a chilly whodunit, a psychological thriller—Beast is all and none of these.

This remarkably assured first feature from writer/director Mark Pearce keeps its focus on Moll (Jessie Buckley), the highly-scrutinized woman living with her parents in a small island community.

We open serenely enough on an angelic church choir rehearsing, a peace that’s harshly broken by the choir leader’s remark: I need more from you, Moll.

Geraldine James is haughty Hilary Huntington, the choirmaster; Moll is her grown daughter.

Soon a rugged stranger draws Moll out of her unhappy life, makes her feel awake and seen. She is destined to love this boy regardless of the string of missing girls in her village, regardless of his shady past, and in spite of the warnings of the smothering community.

Pearce’s skills keep you entranced, no matter the tropes he so easily picks up, throws off or reinvents. Sunlight, shadow, earth, sea—all these serve the visual storyteller’s purpose, while angles and frames keep you off kilter as you puzzle through the tale at hand.

You’re as invested, cautious and curious as Moll, but it’s actually Buckley’s performance—her depiction of Moll’s internal conflict—that is the most compelling and mysterious. As Moll changes demeanor, exploring her own identity becomes more important than determining her lover’s.

Johnny Flynn impresses as well as the local no-account presumed guilty, sharing a misfit chemistry with Moll that is both primal and tender. Tenderness is not what she’s used to from her severe mother, an epic James.

Together with the washed out colors of the characters’ bleak world, the film offers a harsh backdrop for Moll’s dizzying grasp on her own reality. The conflict, duality and self-discovery in Beast cannot help but draw you in, asking you about your own inner beast.

Without hitting a single false note, no matter the choir leader’s opinion, Buckley ushers us through a moral quagmire with a fire and authenticity that is gorgeous to behold.