It’s alive! A Poor Things review

By Caitlin MacDonald

Lanthimos’ big screen adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s novel is a steampunk dreamlike odyssey of liberation.

Having seen a few of his other films, I was unsure where I stood with Yorgos Lanthimos. While I enjoyed his previous work (especially Killing of a Sacred Deer), The Favourite didn’t particularly impress me and I was unsure if Poor Things, his latest film, would follow in similar footsteps. I am thrilled to report Poor Things may be Lanthimos’ best work yet.

Based on the Alasdair Gray novel of the same name, Poor Things is a Victorian Frankenstein, interwoven with sexual liberation and women taking matters into their own hands, backdropped against a pseudo steampunk setting, with impossible architectural feats and a swirling, glittery, watercolour sky (think post-apocalyptic Barbie dreamhouses). A cornerstone of contemporary Scottish literature, Poor Things comes to life in Lanthimos’ trusted hands (a fact that seems cemented by the fact that Gray held a personal tour for Lanthimos around Glasgow—a little nugget of trivia delivered by Gray’s son, Andrew, who introduced the film at a preview at Glasgow Film Theatre earlier this month).

Emma Stone is our lead here, playing a once-dead-now-revived Bella Baxter. Originally a woman with the mind of a child, she learns slowly but surely as she works with Dr Godwin Baxter (our Scottish Dr Frankenstein) and one of Godwin’s students—one anxious Max McCandless—to develop her motor and cognitive functions. You see Bella learn how to perform her role in high society, her amusement when destroying decorative plates as well as her own sexuality.

Bella, not exactly content with the walls of Godwin’s warped half-house, half-laboratory, runs away from her engagement with McCandless with sleazy and debaucherous lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (portrayed by Mark Ruffalo), as they gallivant around the Mediterranean, free of the polite society they both despise, encountering French brothel workers, cynical Americans, and the realisation that the world has true and constant evil in it. A biting reminder of mortality and what it means to live, Poor Things is refreshing and fantastical to watch unfold. In the best way possible, it’s like a dream; you really have no idea what will come next.

After previewing at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year (where it also won the Golden Lion), the buzz around Stone’s performance is completely deserved. She floats around the screen, light and airy, with a charm that a lot of other leading ladies lack. There’s a real magic in Stone and it’s masterfully utilised through the truly hilarious script (written by Tony McNamara, of The Favourite fame) and Lanthimos’ direction. Dafoe is also brilliant, his threshold for madness making him perfect as Godwin (even if his Scottish accent comes off more Irish at times) and Ruffalo as Wedderburn may be one of my favourite performances of this year.

A worthy adaptation of a Scottish classic, Poor Things’ eclectic vibe must be seen on the big screen to be believed.

Poor Things releases in UK cinemas on 12 January 2024.


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