Film Review: Cordelia (2019)

Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Johnny Flynn lead psychological thriller Cordelia through its uneasy relationship with reality

“You’re tortured by guilt”

There’s a lot of double duty going on in Cordelia, with writers Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Adrian Shergold also taking on the roles of leading actor and director respectively. Not only that, Campbell-Hughes plays twin sisters Cordelia and Caroline in a quirkily, dark movie that lurks somewhere close to psychological horror. Rather randomly, it also marks the debut of Sally Hawkins as an executive producer. 

After a traumatic event some 12 years ago, Cordelia has retreated from the world. A RADA-trained actress, she has now scored a part in the company of a production of King Lear at the Donmar and so can no longer remain holed up in the basement flat she shares with her sister in London. Over the course of a weekend when Caroline is away, Cordelia’s dalliances with the outside world are shaped, for better or worse, by her growing connection with the handsome cellist who lives upstairs.

Playing out as an examination of the long-lasting effects of trauma, there’s something disconcerting about Cordelia on several levels. From the discombobulating main publicity image (I still see period drama first every time I look at it) to a final sequence determined to cause ructions to an overall sense of uneasiness with reality, it doesn’t necessarily nail every aspect of this but it gives it a damn good try. 

Campbell-Hughes and Flynn share a disquieting chemistry which carries us through several of the significant humps that emerge in their progressing relationship. And Caroline Dale’s beautiful cello playing provides the requisite haunting atmosphere for the psychodrama to unravel, along with our own detective work in establishing how much of what we’re watching is real. The extent to which you’re willing to play along in that final role will determine how frustrating you find the film.

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