UNA [London Film Festival]

PrintE-mail Written by Peter Turner

The repercussions of a 15-year-old relationship are explored in Una as a young woman hunts down the older man who fell for her when she was just a child. If you can’t wait to see what Ben Mendelsohn does when he gets his chops into a Star Wars villain in Rogue One, Una offers him up as an altogether more troubling character who finds his past come back to haunt him in disastrous fashion.

Rooney Mara is Una, the woman who seeks some answers after her childhood neighbour Ray (Mendelsohn) began a sexual relationship with her before being caught and sent to prison. Since then, Una has clearly brooded over what she saw as Ray’s rejection and abuse of her, but now 15 years later, she finds Ray (now renamed Peter) and confronts him at his workplace. Does she want an explanation, or is she simply trying to destroy Ray/Peter’s new life?

Whether you care about Una’s motivations will depend on how much you sympathise with either Ray’s situation or Una’s mental state. David Harrower’s script tries to find the complexity in the relationship, showing both the damage Ray has caused, but also the genuine feelings he developed for the teenager. Mendelsohn and particularly Mara give great performances, transfixing as their shared memories are pored over, re-examined and stories and secrets are revealed for the first time in fifteen years.

These memories puncture the present day narrative with jarring cuts interrupting the main flow of the narrative. Director Benedict Andrews flashes back to the past to reveal with restraint the relationship that caused all this trauma years later. It's clear that Peter has moved on, but Una is not ready to let it lie, and justifiably so. The scenes set in the past offer respite from Peter’s current workplace which Una has invaded, dressed to impress and desperate to get something from Peter. It’s easy to sympathise with her, but interestingly the film casts its former paedophilic predator as anything but a typical monster.

With workplace stresses also eating at Peter, there is a constant cat-and-mouse game as his co-workers (including Riz Ahmed) attempt to find Peter and Una as they move around the maze of the warehouse in which he works. It never quite escapes its origins on the stage, but when the drama is this gripping, it matters little if the scenes are a bit talky.

It's a brave performance from Ben Mendelsohn, while the narrative strays away from easy explanations and a tidy resolution. As it builds to a suspenseful climax, Una is far from exploitative, even if it does look as though it is heading towards a melodramatic finale. However, with admirable maturity, Una swerves away from simple resolutions and a tidy ending. What could have been a sensationalist ripped-from-the-headlines expose of a disturbing relationship is handled tensely, but sensitively. Catch it before Mendelsohn takes charge of Death Star security in Rogue One.


Expected Rating: 6 out of 10

Actual Rating:

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