Rating 2

Directed by Kenneth Hope

Written by Kate Dennis and Paul Hoffman, based on an original story by Stephen Volk

Starring Mark Strong, Sienna Guillory, David Warner, Frances Barber, Alice Krige and Charlotte Rampling

Julie (Sienna Guillory, the actress-model daughter of the famous Cuban guitarist Isaac Guillory) is a 19-year-old English nanny living and working in Italy. She is accused of the murder of her employers’ child, who dies in a mysterious fire. Isabella Flores (Frances Barber, sporting a scary pair of eyebrows that seem to do most of her acting for her), the prosecuting counsel, persuades Antonio Gabrieli (Mark Strong), a celebrated defence lawyer who has not worked since the death of his wife a year earlier, to act as the defending counsel. Charlotte Rampling plays Mother Frances Matteo, a nun and psychiatrist, appointed by Gabrieli to assess Julie’s state of mind, and David Warner is the no-nonsense Judge Padovani. Most of the action takes place in the courtroom.

This film is based on an original story, but quite clearly that is inspired by the case of Carole Compton, a 19-year-old Scottish nanny living and working in Italy who, in 1982, was accused of witchcraft when several mysterious and unexplained fires broke out in the homes of her various employers. In 1990 she wrote a book about her experiences, entitled ‘Superstition: The True Story Of The Nanny They Called A Witch’.

The premise of ‘Superstition’ might not be as preposterous as it seems, simply because it is based on events that actually took place – the accusation of witchcraft made against a young woman in the late 20th century – but it is still a preposterous film. The template is set in the opening scene when a red London double-decker bus drives along a lonely and spooky country road, clearly intended to alert us that this is taking place in England. This is all very well, but I defy anyone to find a country bus service using old AEC Routemaster buses.

The film does not get any more believable after that. A joint UK-Netherlands-Luxembourg production, it was filmed primarily in the Netherlands, but set in Italy. The majority of the characters are Italian, but the cast is predominantly British. Nobody attempts any kind of accent, which sabotages the theme of Julie (played with the same kind of posh-girl-putting-on-a-working-class-accent sometimes employed by Keira Knightley) being an innocent lost in a strange land.

Mark Strong was actually born Marco Giuseppe Salussolia and has an Italian father. However, you would never guess it from his accent or physical appearance. At one juncture in the film his character is eating a boiled egg for breakfast, washed down with tea served in a china cup and saucer. My knowledge of Italy is largely confined to holidays there, but this does not seem to me to be a very Italian way to start the day.

What point there is to Charlotte Rampling’s character is never made entirely clear. Having been employed to assess Julie’s mental faculties, we never hear the two engaged in conversation and we never find out what conclusions Mother Frances finally arrives at – this from a nun-psychiatrist in a film that is supposedly tackling a story about the balance between science and superstition. However, what is perhaps most mystifying is why anyone would employ Julie as their nanny in the first place. She is barely literate and exhibits numerous worrying signs of borderline psychosis.

The screenplay is poor and the film constantly teeters on the edge of being laughably bad. It constantly veers from bad soap opera to pretensions to European arthouse cinema to lurid Hammer-style schlock-horror. The actors are clearly hampered by this and some of the performances suffer accordingly. I hated the music, which on some occasions was so overwhelmingly painful to listen to I almost stopped watching the film.

In the end, though, for all of its faults, or maybe because of them, I found it almost transfixing. I would even go so far as to say I rather enjoyed it all – in some inexplicable way!

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