A modern reworking of a classic Victorian tale

Maisie Elizabeth (Onata Aprile) and  mum Susanna (Julianne Moore) is 'What Maisie Knew', out now in cinemas.
Maisie Elizabeth (Onata Aprile) and mum Susanna (Julianne Moore) is 'What Maisie Knew', out now in cinemas.

‘What Maisie Knew’ is the portrait of a young girl caught up in a custody battle giving fresh perspective to an old story.

Six-year-old Maisie Elizabeth (Onata Aprile) is raised by her self-obsessed parents, fading rock chick Susanna (Julianne Moore) and art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan), whose interests and sexual appetites eventually take them in opposite directions.

They separate and Maisie ricochets back and forth between Susanna and Beale and their respective new partners, Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard) and Margo (Joanna Vanderham).

While the adults bicker and squabble, determined to seek custody of the girl, little Maisie watches relationships disintegrate through unblinkered eyes.

She gains a deeper insight into the emotional damage that Susanna and Beale have inflicted upon her and the people around them.

Adapted from the Henry James novel of the same name, although reset from late Victorian England to present day New York, ‘What Maisie Knew’ documents a bitter custody battle through the eyes of a quietly observant child caught between her warring parents.

Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who explored fractious family dynamics in their earlier films ‘The Deep End’ and ‘Bee Season’, elicit knockout performances from the ensemble cast including relative newcomer Aprile, who is a mesmerising screen presence, devoid of the winsome artifice that handicaps some child actors.

She is in almost every frame and the film unfolds predominantly from her perspective, glimpsing heated conversations from Maisie’s eye level where venomous words cut to the bone with surgeon-like precision.

While Moore and Coogan spare their selfish characters few blushes, Skarsgard and Vanderham are more appealing as the bartender and nanny, who provide the girl with an emotional life-raft in a sea of her parents’ insults and recriminations.

‘What Maisie Knew’ (Cert 15, 99 mins, Curzon Film World, Drama/Romance, also available to buy DVD £15.99/Blu-ray £19.99)

Starring: Onata Aprile, Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham, Sadie Rae, Jesse Stone Spadaccini.

Also out this week: Insidious 2; Code Red; The Deadly Game; Lords of Lonson; The Taste of Money.