Told through the eyes of an adorable and perceptive little girl, What Maisie Knew is a beautiful, yet deeply upsetting insight into the devastation of divorce and self-absorbed parenting. Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End, Bee Season) the film is a modernised reimagining of the 19th-century novel by Henry James of the same name.
The aptly titled What Maisie Knew can be rather disconcerting viewing at times. There is nothing quite as agonising as baring witness to an innocent and sweet-natured 6-year old (the endearing Onata Aprile) become the collateral damage in her parent’s spiteful custody battle. The film achieves its exhaustive emotional tone, due in large to how tragically accurate directors McGehee and Siegel and screenwriters Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne capture the harsh truths behind marriage separation.
Maisie’s parents, Susanna (Julianne Moore) and Beale (Steve Coogan), are equally despicable as they routinely uproot and unload their own emotional baggage upon their daughter. Both parents visibly and audibly trade blows in front of their child, even going as far as snaring new partners, Margo (Joanna Vanderham) and Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), in their feeble attempts to appear more sympathetic in the eyes of the divorce judge. Each of them carelessly throws the word ‘love’ around without ever exercising the discipline or actions required of it.
Surrounded by some astounding grown up performers, the film demands much of relative newcomer Onata Aprile. Captured almost entirely from Maisie’s eye level, the audience is invited to intimately view and connect with her world from her perspective. Thankfully, with Aprile’s sensitive and flawless performance, audiences should find no problem aligning with this precious and resilient little girl.
Skarsgard’s Lincoln also commands special mention here as Moore’s newly adopted toyboy. Somewhat detached at first, the more time he spends genuinely caring for Maisie in the wake of her parent’s negligence; the more Lincoln’s appeal grows. The most poignant and touching moments come from the subtle and beautiful exchanges between Maisie and Lincoln.
What Maisie Knew is a raw and involving indie film that does not have the publicity it deserves and simply cannot be missed. It is a mature and absorbing experience that every parent should see and take note from.