Mary Nighy’s Feature Debut Showcases A Vulnerable And Emotional Performance From Anna Kendrick – Film Review


Mary Nighy’s debut feature film Alice, Darling begins underwater. The title sequence sees Alice (Anna Kendrick) floating in murky, dark water with a glimpse of light seen from the surface that seems unreachable. The score of strings, traditionally used to steer a film into a romantic or light territory, is heavy when layered with the gurgling sound of the oppressive water. A feeling of submergence pervades the film.

We then see Alice in the city on the way to meet her two best friends, Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn), who we first see through the restaurant’s thick glass window. This sense of distance and disconnection from Alice to the outside world, even her closest friends, is clear from the start and portrayed brilliantly by a nervous and timid Kendrick. She’s running everything over in her head a dozen times before saying it, and the heavy presence of her abusive boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick), is felt even when he’s absent. The emotional abuse that has turned Alice into a shell of herself is shown in fragmented ways, with no prolonged or fetishistic torture scenes. We see it through flashbacks and vignettes but also through the physical impact, it’s having on her, like vomiting, panic attacks and compulsive hair-pulling. The film is insular because the protagonist is insular, no one around her knows what she’s going through, and she is isolated by Simon’s design. 


After practising the right thing to say, her friends plan a week-long getaway to a lakeside cabin for Tess’ birthday, and Alice tells Simon it’s a work trip. As the three friends leave the city, the score changes to an energizing pop song and the cinematography cracks wide open, revealing a world of light and joy that suddenly collapses in on itself again when a text from Simon appears. The serene cabin surrounded by a lake and woodland is shot warmly but still rendered oppressive and suffocating by Alice’s perspective. The water motif is carried through during a pivotal scene when a lost earring in the lake catalyzes Alice’s breakdown of her friends. Tess tells Alice her boyfriend’s actions are blazing red flags and are clear to everyone, but she’s drowning and is resistant to her friends’ outreached hands. 

The small town they are staying in is amidst its crisis; a teenage girl has gone missing. Numerous short scenes make it seem like the search is becoming a fixation, or noble distraction, for Alice, but it’s not explored enough in Alanna Francis’s script to become meaningful. It feels like a distraction when the central relationships and characters could have been explored further, especially Wunmi Mosaku’s Sophie, who was woefully underused while making the most of her screen time. However, the sub-plot did serve as a reminder of the spectre of violence against women after Alice overhears a fellow search party volunteer say, “if she’s hurt, it’s probably someone she knows,” a series of flashbacks to Simon’s abuse. Its effects tell us she’s starting to swim back up to the surface.

While the plot might weaken at parts of the film, the shining light of the script and direction is how incredibly tuned in to the dynamics of Alice’s bond with Sophie and Tess it is. No doubt because Mary Nighy and Alanna Francis both know the intricacies of those relationships personally as women. While the film is a compelling depiction of the demoralizing effects of emotional abuse, led by an outstandingly honest performance by Kendrick (who has been open about her first-hand experience), it feels, first and foremost, like a proclamation of the radical power of female friendships.

Alice, Darling opened in theatres on January 20

by Maddy Sinclair

Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s LabyrinthThe Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.