Film Review: White Widow (2023)

A pleasingly good cast, including Oliver Chris and Rory Fleck Byrne, can’t save White Widow from its lack of emotional profundity

“What about 24 hours in London with me?”

Directed by Henry Mason and written by Thomas Martin, White Widow has ambitions of being dreamily moody and emotionally profound and whilst it hits the mark with the first, I’m not so sure it fully realises the second. Adelaide Clemens plays Natalie, an American who has time to kill in London on a layover from a long flight from East Africa. Her attention is snagged by fellow train passenger Cillian (Rory Fleck Byrne) and so she offers the above proposition which he snaps up after a moment’s pause.

She takes them all over, from King’s Cross to Highgate to Soho, hotels to cemeteries to house parties, but it is soon apparent that she is running from something serious that happened in Africa. Those events play out in hazy flashbacks but the trauma caused by them manifests in various ways in the present day, leading to an emotional odyssey for Natalie, with Cillian along for the ride as he slowly pieces together how much he doesn’t know about this women for whom he’s abandoned his travel plans.

The flashback scenes are effective, particularly where Natalie’s evolving relationship with Oliver Chris’ Andrew is concerned, the slight uncertainty of what it is he actually does adding to his natural charm to make us easily understand how she would fall for him. And as their connection grows in an increasingly febrile political environment, the sense of jeopardy is heightened by her concurrent fears about his fidelity as well as their safety – Saffron Burrows and Kim Bodnia are both entertaining as his colleagues.

In London, the moodiness in Milan Chadima’s cinematography pays off when the focus is on the hedonism and freedom of Natalie and Cillian’s escapades. The push towards thriller territory, coming from her repeated insistence that “I killed him” promises something that doesn’t really come to fruition, frustratingly so for me and killing the vibes that had been pepped up by the likes of Russell Tovey, Margot Leicester and Eric Kofi Abrefa popping up in minor roles. A strong opening two thirds, spoiled by the last.

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