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Harrowing & Hypnotic
on 23 July 2011
It is by no means a spoiler to mention that this film is based on a notorious French murder case, since a palpable sense of impending catastrophe looms over the production right from the off. Two heavily-repressed sisters (Joely Richardson & Jodhi May) are engaged as maids at the terminally-disfunctional household of Julie Walters and her daughter Sophie Thursfield. Relentlessly hectored and bullied, the sisters' mutual dependency soon evolves into an intense, obsessional relationship that they struggle to keep concealed. Director Nancy Meckler plays the claustrophobic atmosphere of the house for all its worth, but the film stands on the performances of the cast, all of whom are excellent: Richardson as the ice-maiden desperately clinging to the remnants of her self-control; May as the naive, trusting, perpetually-terrified waif; and Walters, playing "Madame" like a borderline-psychotic version of an archetypal 'Wood & Walters' character (and utterly terrifying with it). But it's Thursfield who steals the show, as the dumpy, distinctly ineligible daughter who realises full well that she and her mother are just as trapped as the luckless sisters. By no means an easy watch, but a film to haunt you long after the closing credits have rolled.