“We are nothing without stories, so we invite you to believe in this one.” These are the words that introduce The Wonder. Adapted from the novel by Emma Donoghue, the film begins not in the Irish Midlands in 1862 where it’s set, but instead in a largely-vacant film studio in the present day. It’s a strange choice of start, asking viewers to suspend their disbelief while drawing attention to the fact it needs suspending. It’s not until you’re deep into the film that this structural bookend (the film closes on the same set it opens) begins to make sense.

Backed by a stellar supporting cast (Kíla Lord Cassidy portrays remarkable vulnerability as titular subject Anna, while Niamh Algar sparkles as a fourth-wall-breaking meta-maid), Florence Pugh – who’s name is essentially synonymous with a mark of quality at this point – is characteristically captivating. Her performance here is the steadfast ground to which this story is tethered. In a world of characters “here only to watch,” it’s her conviction, tenderness, and capacity for compassion that carry the film along.

Introducing its own narrative with a jarring sense of scepticism, The Wonder is a layered examination of our dependence on stories and how we use them. But for all of its sense of spectacle – in topic, if not in tone, and in the way it portrays the overpowering nature of an unforgiving landscape – it lacks any real sense of, well, wonder. Its stilted pace and shifting tone are a little hard to keep up with, and the film’s lofty ambitions set out at the start don’t quite deliver the substance they seek.

A conversation between faith and fact, The Wonder is a lament on the stories that sustain us, and how much we need them to carry us through.



CAST: Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Niamh Algar, Toby Jones

DIRECTOR: Sebastián Lelio

WRITERS: Emma Donoghue, Sebastián Lelio, Alice Birch

SYNOPSIS: Haunted by her past, a nurse travels from England to a remote Irish village in 1862 to investigate a young girl’s supposedly miraculous fast.