The Awakening

The Awakening


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The ghost story represents a curious genre. Though attempts have been made to bring it up to date, it never flourishes so well as in its classic Victorian form, a setting undisturbed by advances in communications that have eaten away at its vital loneliness. The Awakening is a story with all the classic ingredients - an isolated stately home shrouded in fog, a mysterious death, a sullen servant, a series of bumps in the night, terrible secrets, and a slightly contrived plot. Despite this it manages to remain interesting throughout.

Rebecca Hall is one of England's most impressive young talents. After her sterling supporting work in films like Dorian Gray, The Town and The Prestige, it's great to see her get a leading role, and she doesn't disappoint. Here she plays Florence, a woman who has built a career around exposing the psychic hoaxes common in early 20th century London.

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Many men have been lost in the Great War; many more people to the 'flu epidemic; and a lot of those left behind desperately want to believe. Florence may secretly be among them. When she is invited to visit a remote boarding scool where there have been curious sightings, and where a boy has died, she can't resist.

In truth, her interest may also have something to do with handsome schoolteacher Robert (Dominic West); for all her stand-offishness she is clearly a passionate woman. Also present are doting matron Maud (Imelda Staunton), shifty groundskeeper Judd (Joseph Mawle), and of course the schoolboys themselves, the most charming of whom is lonely young Tom (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Sensing a kindred spirit, Florence is patient with the boy's questions even when they threaten to bring back uncomfortable memories. But despite the apparent ordinariness of all these people there is something going on that she can't quite put her finger on, and as little incidents persistently confound her scientific understanding of the world, her confidence crumbles.

The Awakening is a film that will keep you guesing as multiple possible solutions to its puzzles appear and disappear. It's a story about ghosts, but in a wide sense - as important as the supernatural are the ghosts we carry with us in the form of painful memories. It also has complex subtexts about child-rearing, the difficult balance between the desire to make a boy strong (enough to survive a war, perhaps) and the desire a mother might feel to protect him, to keep him close to her forever. This potent connection to real world issues makes for a much more satisfying, rounded film that many with similar tales to tell.

Fans of cinematic ghost stories will love this film. Hall's fans will find much to admire. And anyone who appreciates a bit of thoughtful, moody cinema with good production values would be well advised to check it out.

Reviewed on: 09 Nov 2011
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A woman devoted to exposing psychic hoaxes is invited to investigate ghostly sightings at a remote boarding school.
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Director: Nick Murphy

Writer: Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Lucy Cohu, John Shrapnel, Diana Kent, Richard Durden, Alfie Field, Tilly Vosburgh, Ian Hanmore, Cal Macaninch, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Anastasia Hille, Andrew Havill, Joseph Mawle

Year: 2011

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


London 2011

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