Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Wonderland

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

Wonderland

7/10

UK 1999, dir. Michael Winterbottom, stars Gina McKee, Shirley Henderson

On paper, Wonderland doesn’t sound particularly encouraging – handheld cameras following three sisters around London, chronicling their struggles with men, work, and each other. On celluloid, however, it adds up to much more. Director Winterbottom combines documentary-style rough-edged realism with the odd fast-motion flourish, the whole thing propelled along by Michael Nyman’s hypnotic score, and spot-on performances from the large cast.

McKee does well with the central role of Nadia, alternately irritating and endearing as she trawls Soho’s lonely hearts scene, but it’s Shirley Henderson, as Nadia’s no-nonsense hairdresser sister, who steals the show, standing out from a strong ensemble just as she did in Topsy-Turvy – on the basis of these two performances, Henderson deserves recognition as one of British cinema’s brightest hopes for the future.

Wonderland treads a fine line – the events in its characters’ lives must be interesting enough to warrant the audience’s attention, but not so weird or fascinating that they become unbelievable – and does so with striking poise. Winterbottom’s widescreen lensing makes the ordinary seem remarkable, while never falling into the trap of coming over like an advert for the London tourist board. Wonderland was filmed in real streets, real bars, and the people in the background are real people going about their lives, not extras hired for the day – it’s a mark of the city’s confidence that hardly any of them seem to even notice the roving camera. It’s a confidence shared by Winterbottom and his cast and crew, and it’s the ingredient that makes Wonderland really dazzle.

by Neil Young