There is no “normal” way to suffer when the victim of a heinous sex crime. There’s no right or wrong way for anybody who has been put through such a tragic childhood to cope with the reprehensible actions they were subject to. It’s this very notion that Benedict Andrews’ directorial debut explores, adapting David Harrower’s play Blackbird, studiously lingering on a protagonist who has been to hell and back, taking the viewer on several unexpected paths along the way as we strive to comprehend what she’s been through, and understand her subsequent actions– only to determine that it’s impossible to do so.
Rooney Mara plays the eponymous lead role, who was sexually abused at the age of 13 by her neighbour Ray (Ben Mendelsohn). Years have passed, but the scars are still there – and she finally attempts to visit her abuser, who now goes by the name of Peter, working as a warehouse manager. He served time in prison for what he did, but never has he been confronted by Una and the demons of his past – until now.
Una is an evocative, challenging drama that will stay with you long after the credits roll. It’s a complex narrative that takes unexpected turns along the way. We learn from watching a court video that Una (played as a child by Ruby Stokes) was manipulated into believing she had feelings for Ray, unable to understand why he abandoned her all those years ago. She had psychologically damaged by this man to a point where she felt it was real, and Andrews examines these unique themes intelligently, themes that are difficult to comprehend, but it’s vital that we try.
When dealing with a two hander of this nature (well, excluding the excellent Riz Ahmed, who plays Peter’s employee Scott) the film works off the back of the actor’s performances, and where Mara and Mendelsohn are concerned, that much is a given. She is as excellent, and nuanced as always, and the latter is breathtakingly impressive. So subtle that you very almost feel pity towards him, and then feel angry at yourself for even daring to entertain such a thought – which is emblematic of a film that will make you think, and sometimes in cinema, there’s nothing an audience member appreciates more.