Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 15
  • Drama
  • 2012
  • 99 mins

What Maisie Knew

Film4

Synopsis

Starring Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard and Steve Coogan, What Maisie Knew examines a messy custody battle from the perspective of a six year old in a modern take on a Henry James’ 1897 novel of the same name.

About

As her self-centred parents fight each other for custody, Maisie (Onata Aprile) is passed from parent to parent and partner to partner in an endless stream of phonecalls, appointments and taxis. Her father (Steve Coogan) moves in with the nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham), while Maisie’s mother (Julianne Moore) marries a young, laidback bartender Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard) in an attempt at one-upmanship. Though Maisie’s parents fight viciously over her, they forget her at school or at each other’s homes and when they do spend the time with their daughter they don’t know what to do with her.

Maisie is a self-contained child who is able to negotiate modern day Manhattan; we see her paying the pizza delivery man when her parents are too occupied with arguing to do it – and she doesn’t forget a tip. She watches everything with the look of knowing and not knowing, she’s a child confused, upset and sometimes bored by the adults around her and the camera, rightly, remains focused on her as the adults argue around her. Sometimes Maisie expresses a truth the adults can’t and sometimes, heartbreakingly, she makes excuses for them.

Julianne Moore is fantastic as Maisie’s brittle, angry musician mother who sits around at parties watching videos of herself and talks to her daughter as though they are both teenagers. She’s possessive, needy and jealous, even of her daughter’s affections and is so terrified of the connection that develops between her new partner and her daughter that she rails against it as nothing more than a plot. Maisie’s father, Beale (Steve Coogan), is distant, tells jokes she doesn’t understand and disappears overseas into his work. Both of them are too busy and too self-centred to put Maisie first.

It is the partners, rather than the parents, who are able to connect with Maisie. Lincoln (Skarsgard), handsome and good with kids, ticks a few too many boxes to be believable. Having said that, Skarsgard has brilliant chemistry with Aprile and is able to portray their growing relationship with ease, particularly in a montage in which the pair treat the city like their own personal playground. Music is held back for these moments, with great effect, creating a stark contrast with the isolating time she spends with her parents. In another touching scene, Maisie is given a seedling to nurture at school and it is the green shoots of something tender and real that we hope will win out.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan
  • Director: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
  • Screen Writer: Carroll Cartwright
  • Writer (Book): Henry James
  • Producer: William Teitler, Charles Weinstock, Daniela Lundberg Taplin
  • Photographer: Giles Nuttgens

In a nutshell

With brilliant performances from Julianne Moore and newcomer Onata Aprile, this touching portrayal of a marriage breakdown is at times an uncomfortable watch as it focuses its attentions on the child stuck in the middle.

by Sarah Hunt

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4

    Apache Territory

    Western with Rory Calhoun. A drifter finds himself in charge of a desperate stand against Apache warriors who are determined to either expel incomers from their domain or kill them.

    On Film4: 31 May 11:00AM

  • Film4

    I Wish

    Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda's critically acclaimed, charming drama explores the lives of two young brothers whose parents have separated.

    On Film4: 31 May 1:00AM

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House 2016

    Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House, London¿s groundbreaking open-air film festival, returns between 4-17 August, with a prestigious programme of classic and contemporary films, and a total of thr

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Film4-backed film deals at Cannes 2016

    In addition to Andrea Arnold's American Honey taking home the Jury Prize, Film4 are thrilled to report that a number of deals were announced for Film4-backed films in Cannes... THE KILLING OF

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Tweets @Film4

  • Up next at 3.05pm, young Kristen Stewart is plotting a bank heist in 2004 crime comedy Catch That Kid. https://t.co/dPoDcaWTWg

  • Tonight at 9pm! https://t.co/8H6bqxcZwJ

  • Morning! At 11am, Claude Rains is looking for dinosaurs in the Amazonian jungle in 60s adventure The Lost World. https://t.co/fecZe2KGS0

  • Our late-night highlight at 1.45am is @joshuatrank's superb found-footage sci-fi debut, Chronicle. https://t.co/QKTICAWQZd

  • Coming up tomorrow night... https://t.co/8H6bqxcZwJ

Share