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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Eileen ***

Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland, Owen Teague

Director: William Oldroyd

Country: USA

UK Release: Universal Pictures


There are movies that you just want to like. Anne Hathaway starring as a platinum blonde femme fatale with Thomasin McKenzie as her mousy devotee sounded like a recipe for success, but the reality is somewhat… muted.


In 1960s Massachusetts, 24 year-old Eileen (McKenzie - Last Night In Soho, Jojo Rabbit) cares for her alcoholic father (Whigham) while working in the nearby prison. Shy and withdrawn, she begins to explore both herself and her sexuality upon the arrival of the glamorous new psychologist, Rebecca (Hathaway - Les Misérables, The Dark Knight Rises), with whom she is quickly fascinated. But as the two strike a bond, Eileen is unable to unpick this striking woman’s intentions, who seems unusually obsessed with the origins of one inmate at the prison.


Dark and atmospheric, this is far from an idealised vision of the 60s, with this bleak winter backwater completely devoid of colour. As Eileen learns to smoke like her new idol, the frame is filled with Noir-ish fumes as the weak light casts long shadows. Long observational scenes watch Eileen awkwardly trying to emulate the femininity she is convinced she lacks, underscored by a luscious orchestral soundtrack that gives the internalised drama extra weight by a composer given carte blanche.


The film’s final act is actually very strong, but the set-up is so long and arduous that when the narrative finally bites, it struggles to shrug off its lethargic pacing. But while it’s Rebecca that we’re initially drawn too - there’s always something so magnetic about Hathaway’s eyes - it should come as no surprise that this is very much Eileen’s story. And while this complex character is delightfully rich on the page, McKenzie’s performance as the deer-in-a-headlights breathless ingénue isn’t quite enough to peep out from the shade of her costar.


A dreary yet dramatic film that doesn’t quite live up to its potential, it suffers from being annoyingly uneven, with a titular character that we care very little for. And while it scored a blinder with getting Hathaway on board, they bafflingly underuse her in favour of a much blander lead.


UK Release: Out now on VOD, released by Universal Pictures

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