The only thing I knew about Una beyond its main cast (the always interesting Rooney Mara and Ben Mendlsohn) was its origins as a play (Blackbird by David Harrower). Sadly, despite the best efforts of all involved, this story of sexual abuse can’t escape those origins to arrive on screen as a fully-fledged film.
Fifteen years after their illicit relationship ended, Una (Rooney Mara) tracks down her abuser Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) and pays a visit to his factory workplace in search of answers. Those answers are hard to come by but the bulk of Una sees Una question a shell shocked Ray. Their conversation twists as events are recalled and uncomfortable truths are shared. It works for a while but the elements introduced to try and create some cinematic urgency aren’t really up to the task. The appearance of Una at his workplace led his mind astray and he fluffed his lines at a major meeting. His boss (Tobias Menzies) and well-meaning co-worker Scott (Riz Ahmed) search the factory as Una and Ray move from room to room. It’s an admirable attempt to keep the drama from going stale, but its really only one blast of Yakety Sax away from turning into something entirely different.
Mara and Mendelsohn are engaging enough storytellers (although Mara’s accent is a little uneven) as they relive their past and flashbacks are added to add to the mix. Although the flashbacks do help to drive the film away from its stage origins, there’s no apparent order or rhythm as to when Andrews chooses to use them. There are no discrepancies in what these flashbacks show and what the characters say, so there’s no intrigue created through characters trying to deceive one another. It’s just two people recounting a shared experience but with an occasional visual accompaniment.
Andrews contrasts the quiet tranquillity of the English suburb that Una grew up on with blasts of Jed Kurzel’s agitating score to add to the sense of foreboding. Again, it’s an admirable attempt to generate unease in the viewer but the technique is deployed far too often and thus its effect is diluted.
The supporting cast don’t far so well: bonus points to anyone who spots Indira Varma, Menzies does little bar angrily open doors and Ahmed’s character has to behave like an idiot to take the film into its third act. He’s presented with a piece of information that wholly contradicts a reaction he observed not that long ago and doesn’t even think to question it, playing along as the plot requires.
In a film that’s light on plot, inconsistencies like this become even more glaring. It’s possible that there’s a way to transfer this story from stage to screen but Una is an ineffective attempt.
UNA played at the 60th BFI London Film Festival and is in cinemas & VOD on September 1st 2017.