Netflix‘s latest psychological drama has just hit the streaming site, and it’s a period piece. The Wonder, directed by Sebastián Lelio, who also co-wrote the script with Emma Donohue and Alice Birch, takes place in 1862 during the Irish Famish. The cast includes Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, and Niamh Algar. Pugh plays a nurse tasked with investigating a strange claim that an 11-year-old girl can survive without food.
However, The Wonder immediately plays with audience expectations as, following the promotion material emphasising its period drama style, the film opens in a modern-day studio where Algar sets the scene using a voice-over. She introduces the audience with: “Hello. This is the beginning. The beginning of a film called The Wonder.” Algar then elaborates on the story credentials: “The people you’re about to meet are characters. Believe in their stories with complete devotion. “We are nothing without stories, and so we invite you to believe in this one.”
The film then begins, and we soon see Algar again playing a servant, Kitty, who is allowed to break the fourth wall. She turns to the camera and tells the audience that “we all have our stories”.
This unexpected opening has divided audiences, who have taken to social media sites to express their reactions. One side cites it as hauntingly beautiful and inventive, however, the other side feels that it is out of place and capricious.
In a sit-down interview with RadioTimes.com, Algar explained the discordant opening. “It was sort of sitting down with [director Sebastian Lelio] and figuring out what it was he wanted from that character, someone who is sort of introducing the story but is also in it,” she revealed. “It’s that idea of allowing the audience to be drawn into the story, we’re giving them a wink and going: ‘We’re telling the story, stories are used to make sense of this world and inviting you in in the hope that you’re going to believe in the characters and the story.’”
Algar shared what this adds to the story. “Then we’re in the story and now and then, we see Kitty come up and it’s almost like she’s watching everything,” she said. “She’s watching Florence’s character, and there’s that intrigue because, for Kitty, language is something that she struggles with because she can’t read.” The explanation concludes with some character study and overall meaning: “I think stories must have been quite difficult because she has to be told them, and she’s wanting to learn to read and read the stories for herself because that’s a powerful tool for someone.”
The film is looking to be a promising watch so far, as our review shares: “The collaboration of the director, novelist Emma Donoghue, and brilliant screenwriter Alice Birch has produced a wonderful, carefully crafted script.”
The Wonder was released on Netflix on Wednesday, November 16th. Be sure to stream Lelio’s psychological mystery piece soon.