Una chronicles the moment when a sordid, degenerate past collides with a delicately balanced present. A past looking for recompense. Based on David Harrower’s Olivier Award-winning play, Blackbird, this is the story of when Una caught up with Ray; the man she ran away with when she was just 13 years old. The man who was arrested and imprisoned for the crime.
This film doesn’t give you any run-up at it, no time to prepare or steady yourself, because Una affords Ray neither. And, I suspect, she doesn’t even get the grace of that herself. After spotting his photo in a trade magazine, she excuses herself from work with a lie, and goes to find him. He’s living as Peter now, protected by a shroud of anonimity, albeit veil-thin.
When Una first confronts Ray, her only emotion is anger. But it’s a cool, almost clinical anger. It contrasts beautifully with his panic and flustered disintegration. But as the film progresses, interspersed with flashbacks for both of them, we soon discover that her anger isn’t as straightforward as it appeared.
She may be encased in an adult body, and he may have built a new identity for himself, but it becomes evident that neither of them have moved on from that moment. They have both been living that one night for the past 15 years. Her as a perpetual child, still confused by feelings that she should have distanced herself from, and him still trying to justify his attraction to her.
Their reunion takes place, appropriately, in darkened rooms, empty bathrooms, hidden spaces. Ray does what he can to keep his past secret, but she demands to be seen. The past repeats itself, and his betrayal becomes complete as he tries to walk away. But this time, she’s not content until she derails his life completely.
You would imagine that, with a story like this, it would be obvious where your sympathies would lie. No argument needed. But it’s just not that clear cut. I found my empathy flip-flopping between the characters and, even after having slept on it, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about this film. It’s confronting and challenging to the point of being accusatory.
Neither of the characters end this film satisfied, and I certainly don’t have my views solidified either. By design, it’s not an enjoyable watch, but the more I think about it, the more I can appreciate its subtle and underhanded cleverness. If you like films that don’t let go, that niggle under your skin, then Una is definitely one for you.
Dir: Benedict Andrews
Scr: David Harrower
Cast: Ruby Stokes, Rooney Mara, David Shields
Prd: Maya Amsellem
Music: Jed Kurzel
Run time: 94 minutes
UK DVD and Blu-ray released January 8th