Back in 2020 when COVID was tapdancing its way globally, a scandalous (for some) poster was dropped. In a power dynamic reversal, a woman had a man sensually pinned against the wall, and – of course – this drew the attention of many to the UK release of the psychological thriller, CORDELIA. Now, the film has been released stateside, and it begged the question as to whether or not the film would live up to the hype that the poster generated. Alas, while the imagery of the poster left a strong impression, CORDELIA as a whole did not.
The film follows the titular Cordelia (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), a young woman living in London who is still dealing with the traumatic ramifications of a bombing in London. This has influenced her behavior, fearing everyone around her and creating a paralysis at the thought of taking the subway. Living with her twin sister, highlighting the difference events can have on a person’s behavior and psychology pretty quickly, she is stuck in a form of stasis.
Things shift into motion, though, when her twin sister goes out of town, and Cordelia meets the mysterious, cordial neighbor Frank (Johnny Flynn) for the first time. Seemingly awkward, Frank is a charming presence. But charm can only work for so long before the red flags pop up. It’s not long before she starts to unravel and question everything about him, with old traumas and new dangers floating to the surface.
Co-written by Campbell-Hughes and director Adrian Shergold, on the surface, CORDELIA checks off the boxes of what one can expect from a psychological thriller. The titular character fits the role easily of the unreliable narrator. Due in part to Shergold’s massaging of tension throughout the course of the film, slipping into the character’s shoes and various anxieties is quite easy. And, the shift between Cordelia’s internal dream space and reality further emphasizes her growing fear as things appear to fall apart around her.
With that said, though, the film’s third act frustrates. Leading up to what ultimately transpires, there is already the issue that there are many competing variables story-wise. A production of King Lear, a twin sister going away, the eccentric neighbors that occupy Cordelia’s apartment complex (with a brilliantly cast Michael Gambon, mind you); there are too many little side plot notes that ultimately detract focus. It also detracts from what could have been a stronger impact in the third act when it appears Cordelia is starting to come into her own (and revisits the provocative poster mentioned above).
Where the film could have benefited was a tighter storyline with those elements mentioned earlier cut or reduced further. In an exploration of this titular character and the growing tension between her and Frank, and where the film concludes itself, the audience would have benefited perhaps from emphasizing or rewriting elements that help better connect the dots to where CORDELIA ends. As the ending stands now, it’s difficult not to say that viewers may feel cheated. It’s abrupt and, arguably, doesn’t feel earned.
Despite the plot, Campbell-Hughes and Flynn work well together onscreen. Campbell-Hughes as the devil’s task of portraying twins, but infuses both with clearly defined personality traits that keep them from being confusing. It also further illustrates how bad off Cordelia herself is psychologically. Johnny Flynn’s Frank is quirky, with a menacing edge that he slowly dials up as the film progresses. Both characters are clearly trapped in their pasts, with their neuroses ruling them. So, when they finally collide in that final act, it could have been powerful. And, for a while, it is. Until it isn’t.
Something to make note of is the production design from Tom Pierce and the art direction implemented in CORDELIA. These elements, whether the team’s intention or not, help to clue us in to the mindsets of both Cordelia and Frank onscreen. As mentioned previously, both characters seem trapped within their pasts. The antiquated feeling of their individual apartments seems to enhance this. Pairing this with their movements in the outside world further emphasizes that feeling of stasis when we’re brought back to their apartments.
Overall, CORDELIA was okay. Frustrations with the final act are inevitable, unfortunately, because of the execution and lack of connective tissue to get viewers from point A to point B. With the ending Campbell-Hughes and Shergold went with, more could have been done to get us there. Mind you, it’s not for lack of trying, though. Viewers are taken into Cordelia’s mind through the constant transition between dream versus reality, so that element is there to invite us into the possibilities of the overall story. But not enough appears to have been done to maximize the potential impact the film could have had. Even taking into account the strong performances from its core duo.
CORDELIA is now available in select theaters and On Demand via Screen Media.
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