The writer David Harrower has adapted into a curious but flawed film his superb, suffocating 2005 play ‘Blackbird’. It’s the story of a woman, Una (Rooney Mara, slightly caged by a British accent), who out of the blue confronts in his workplace the much older former neighbour, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn gives a strong performance), who was jailed for having sex with her when she was 12 years old.
The play is almost entirely a two-hander: a difficult, often extremely provocative conversation set entirely in the present, and one which enters into tough grey areas without ever denying that what happened to Una was abuse, no ifs, no buts – despite Ray being able to believe it was consensual.
But as a film ‘Una’ suffers from the need to open out the story for the screen: it’s loaded with flashbacks and new characters, unnecessary side business (Riz Ahmed plays a work colleague of Ray, now known to his new colleagues and family as Pete). The unhappy result is that so much of the power of ‘Blackbird’ is neutered. Much of the challenging discomfort of the play is replaced with the easier, quicker wins of revenge, sex and redemption. It remains a daring project – but you’re better off reading the play.