Rose Plays Julie — a taut and gripping tale of secret identities

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Newsletter: FT Weekend

At first glance, the atmosphere in Rose Plays Julie looks peaceful as a Zen garden. Don’t believe your eyes. Your gut instinct will be more reliable, a sense of things out of sight, under the surface. Co-directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor are two of the most consistently interesting film-makers working today. Their new project is their best film yet, a revenge story made for the age of #MeToo, centred on a haunted young Dubliner. This is Rose (Ann Skelly). Before and after, she is also Julie. The film will explain.

We open in a lecture theatre, the kind of clean, modern public space Molloy and Lawlor like as backdrop. (See also: airports, exhibitions.) Rose is training as a vet. We see enough to wonder if she will cope — with the sorrowful pet-owners, the blood. (A classmate, having already put down a border collie and several cats, tells her she will have to toughen up.) Then, just as we are getting our bearings, a twist. There will be more — a new identity, a blurred male figure. But for now the shock is that Rose has a secret. No. Is a secret.

So a thriller? Absolutely — taut and gripping, with shades of the great Claude Chabrol. But a morality tale too. Travelling to London, Rose stalkerishly cons her way into the home of Ellen (Orla Brady), an actress with whom she would seem to have no connection. In fact — a mild spoiler warning — we have already learned that Ellen is her birth mother. The older woman reacts to the reunion with a stunned, wordless shaking in place — as if passed through by a ghost. Later, as the plot fills with awful truths and barefaced lies, others do the same. And all the while there’s that deceptive stillness, one among many inspired stylistic choices: a score of kettledrum rumbles and a single, piercing bright high note; floor-to-ceiling windows that still leave rooms in shadow; a script filled with loaded, weighted lines.

The momentum cranks. Soon Rose becomes Julie — a vengeful spirit whose bobbed wig hints at David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. We are all actors really, a point made without diminishing the gravity of the story. Brady and Aidan Gillen — cast as a preening archaeologist — each do powerful work. But Skelly embodies the energy of the film — unpredictable, quietly furious, fiercely purposeful.

★★★★☆

In UK cinemas from September 17

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