Una is the screen adaptation of David Harrower’s controversial play Blackbird, a story about paedophilia and its devastating consequences.
Set in a very average English suburb, Una (Mara) is a very broken 28 year old woman who chances up on a newspaper photo of her former neighbour Ray (Mendelsohn), the man who abused her when she was just 13 years old. Ray served 4 years in prison for his actions and has since changed his name and moved on with his life.
Told in the present tense and in a series of flashbacks, the 13 year old Una is portrayed by the incredibly talented Ruby Stokes. The young Una is all wide eyed, coltish innocence who is seduced by the much older Ray into believing he loves her and a 3 month long ‘affair’ follows. The pair eventually attempt to run away to Europe and this is where the family and police finally become aware of the situation.
When Una confronts Ray in his place of work, a large, soulless warehouse full of people and boxes and noise, he is visibly shocked by her sudden appearance. He takes Una in to the staff breakroom, seemingly more worried about what people outside the room are thinking or may discover than the actual woman in there with him.
Ray ties to handle the situation and just wants Una to leave but she has waited 15 years for this moment and there is just one thing she wants to know. Why did he leave her?
It’s the first of many unexpectedly confrontational moments in this movie. I mean, given the subject matter, it was never going to be an easy movie to watch but this story is very different because it gives voice to both the abused and the abuser.
Mendelsohn is such a fine actor that there are moments when you don’t actually hate him. He brings uncomfortable dimension to this most despised of men. Just as suddenly, you are almost startled back into the reality of who this man really is and as you watch the scenes unfolding, you see how these people operate, how they manipulate children into believing they are loved. Ray’s constant ‘ I am not one of those’ make you want to punch him.
The final act will leave you reeling as you replay the entire movie in your head and slump back into your set, aghast at what you have just witnessed. But what did you just witness?
Mendelsohn has long been a favourite of mine and this could be his finest work yet. Mara is heartbreaking as the older Una but it is Stokes who is the true revelation.
4 ½ stars
Director : Benedict Andrews
Starring : Ruby Stokes, Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Tara Fitzgerald, Riz Ahmed, Tobias Menzies
Running Time : 94 minutes
Release Date : In Cinemas Now
If it's on in Newcastle, it's on Newcastle Live