Stephanie Daley

Rating 4

Written and directed by Hilary Brougher

Starring Tilda Swinton,
Amber Tamblyn, Timothy Hutton, Halley Feiffer and Denis O’Hare

Tilda Swinton, who was also executive producer of this extraordinary film, plays Lydie Crane, a forensic psychologist who is brought in by the prosecutor’s office to conduct a series of interviews with Stephanie Daley, a sixteen-year-old girl, played by Amber Tamblyn, who is accused of the murder of her prematurely born child following a pregnancy she claims not to have even been aware of. Lydie Crane is 29 weeks pregnant when the interviews begin, having given birth to a stillborn baby the previous year after 23 weeks of pregnancy. Stephanie Daley gave birth to her baby in a toilet stall after 26 weeks.

The story takes place in a small, picturesque American town, in which the church, local community and high school all instil strong Christian values into Stephanie. She is also the product of parents who no longer seem able to communicate with one another and she bends to the peer-pressure of her best friend Rhana, played by Halley Feiffer - an actress who was previously very impressive in the film ‘The Squid and the Whale’.

As the interviews slowly unfold we learn more about Stephanie and how her journey also informs that of Lydie, who carries unspoken doubts about both her pregnancy and her marriage to Paul (played by the ever-reliable Timothy Hutton).

Hilary Brougher, the writer and director, has done a tremendous job. Her only previous film, a lesbian sci-fi romantic thriller called ‘The Sticky Fingers of Time’, was made seven years previously. Both films brought her excellent reviews - and with ‘Stephanie Daley’ several award nominations at prestigious film festivals.

Tilda Swinton gives a superb performance, which is perhaps not surprising. I cannot bring to mind an acting performance by her I have seen that is not noteworthy. However, the acting honours must go to Amber Tamblyn, if only for one particularly unsettling scene that I found quite harrowing. To say more about it would be to give away too much of the story, but suffice to say it is a scene that leaves a powerful impression.

The film tackles a difficult subject in a quiet, considered and thought-provoking way and I strongly recommend it.

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