An adaption of Henry James’s 19th-century novel of the same name, What Maisie Knew has undergone modernising alterations but retains the same pitiable core: a child passed from pillar to post by divorced parents, repeatedly let down by those in whom she places the most trust. Anchoring the film and appearing in every scene, seven-year-old Onata Aprile is superb as the titular moppet, naturalistically weathering the many disruptions and disappointments carelessly sent her character’s way.
As the warring narcissists responsible, meanwhile, Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan play to familiar strengths (displaying neurotic histrionics and haughty arrogance respectively) but never let their roles become two-dimensional monsters; though both parties are deeply selfish, they’re too pathologically pathetic to be boo-hiss hateable.
Tonally the film plots a slightly unsteady course, with an encroaching mawkishness taking it a hair’s breadth from Nicholas Sparks territory. But pat resolutions aside, What Maisie Knew squares its emotions believably, provoking upset and anger at its scenes of collateral damage, but also inspiring respect for the resilience of youth. [Chris Buckle]