In a week when it is possible to “virtually” touch a tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Park (3D) or ogle Amanda Seyfried as a porn star in Lovelace, it would be easy to forget What Maisie Knew. But I am glad I did not. The most amazing thing about this film is that it is based on a Henry James novel written in 1897 about a little girl who becomes a tragic pawn in her parents’ bitter divorce battle. A hundred years or so later, the story is just as relevant — if not more so — as children continue to be the silent victims in so many broken relationships.
Told entirely from Maisie’s point of view, it is impossible not to feel the anguish of this six-year-old as it is etched across the face of Onata Aprile, a smart child actress who shines in this pivotal role. Indeed, all the acting is top-notch, with the magnificent Julianne Moore playing Maisie’s narcissistic rock chick mother and Steve Coogan — who continues to surprise with his range — cast as her self-centred father.
You want to shake both parents for neglecting their child so consistently as she is shunted from place to place, finding respite only in the caring hands of her nanny (Joanna Vanderham), who is seduced into marriage by the father, and bartender (Alexander Skarsgard), who winds up with the mother.
In the company of these confused step-parents Maisie gets to be a little girl again instead of a witness to her parents’ dysfunctional behaviour.
Wise and worldly beyond her years, it is she who emerges as the mature one in Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s emotive movie that serves to remind that children should always come first.