The Little Stranger (2018)

LENNY ABRAHAMSON

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.  //, 2018.  , , , , , , .  Screenplay by , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .

A medical doctor () who has joined the ranks of the newly created NHS is brought to a run-down country manor to attend to its ailing maid, reconnecting with the manor that his mother worked in before he was born and which he had visited as a child.  Befriending the daughter of the house (), Gleeson is asked to also see to her brother (, overdoing it as usual), a returned soldier suffering gruesome burns, which leads to the doctor’s becoming a regular in the house and, eventually, a guest at their rare social occasions.  This being the age of the downfall of the aristocracy, the family has an old name and no money, which means they are beginning to think of selling off their lands, something that Gleeson has a casual oversight of while taking a more emotional aim on Wilson.  Her mother () begins to behave as if disturbed, insisting that the daughter she lost as a child is haunting the house, while Poulter claims that it is the house that is cursed and destroys all who live in it.  This absorbing drama of class consciousness is subtle with its plot details, not quite a ghost story, romance or family drama but boldly containing touches of all three, its purpose murky throughout but kept in line by a masterful performance by Gleeson at his most assured.  While the country may believe that it has flattened out its class differences (a few gripes about the Labour Party are thrown into the dialogue) with the nationalization of medicine and railroads following the Allied victory over the Nazi threat, this spooky story tells us that there is a vengeance that will not be denied in the process of restoring the injustices of a corrupt system.  The film could use a tiny bit of a shave in its last third, the intentional lack of chemistry between the two leads makes their playing out a courtship a little dull to observe in such great detail, but overall it’s an intelligent deconstructing of the Downton Abbey world that we love to admire aesthetically but really need to question more fundamentally.

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