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What Maisie Knew


Stars: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham, Onata Aprile

Director: David Siegel, Scott McGehee

Stories of children - usually small girls - torn between divorcing parents were briefly popular in post-war British cinema, but have emerged all too seldom on the world stage since: only Kramer Vs Kramer springs readily to mind.

The lifetstyles of the parents of six-year-old Maisie (Aprile) are hardly ideally conducive to the upbringing of a child, even if they were actually married. She (Moore) is an ageing rock star who lives a slightly dissolute and footloose existence. He (Coogan) is a seat-of-pants businessman always off on three-week trips abroad. And they fight like cat and dog.

After one particularly fierce row - like all the others, overheard by Maisie - Coogan threatens to leave and Moore tells him to go. When he returns the next day, he finds she has already changed the locks.

They both love the little girl, but possession is just as important. Coogan marries the child's Scottish nanny (Vanderham from TV's The Paradise) and the courts grant him sole possession. In retaliation, Moore marries her barman friend Lincoln (Skarsgard) and seems to obtain joint custody thereby (the script here isn't very clear).

Maisie quickly grows fond of her new step-parents, both young, loving people. It's clear where this is going, but the child's future remains uncertain to the end; and we can see how a sequel (What Maisie Did Next, perhaps) might easily end in tears.

All the portrayal are strong. Skarsgard and Vanderham look destined for major stardom, Moore is spot-on as always, and Coogan gives one of his best performances. The child, like most moppets these days, is natural and appealing (which makes her predicament all the more poignant) and the film's narrative wears its slower patches with easy grace.

Photography by Giles Nuttgens lends a relaxed glow to the New York settings, even if it seems improbable that so many romantic dramas set in New England should feature houses right on the beach.

Don't expect the masterpiece some critics have promised - the drama is a little too open, relaxed and fragmentary for that - and you'll come away well satisfied.

David Quinlan

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Artificial Eye. Technicolor/Colour by AlphaCine.
97 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 21 Aug 2013