Toronto regular Sebastián Lelio returned to the festival with his latest female-fronted drama The Wonder, a period piece starring woman-of-the moment Florence Pugh. Stopping by Deadline’s TIFF Studio with screenwriter Emma Donoghue — author of the Oscar-nominated Room (2015) — Lelio explained what drew him to his first historical work.
“It’s a story about an English nurse who is summoned by a group of notables from a small Irish town in 1862,” he said, “and she has to watch [and] observe a girl that, allegedly, has been surviving without food for a few months. So, the town needs to understand if this is a miracle or a hoax. And as a rationalist, as a woman of science, she thinks is going to uncover the hoax right away. But it doesn’t happen like that, and so she will have to find out if it is a miracle or if there’s something more ominous going on there.”
‘The Wonder’ Telluride Review: Florence Pugh In Sebastian Lelio’s Gothic Netflix Drama
Donoghue’s novel was brought to him by producers Ed Guiney and Tessa Ross, and it appealed to him straight away. “I just loved the novel,” he said, “and I really loved the two central characters — a nurse and a girl — which is quite an unusual relationship in a film, I would say. It’s not a romance, it’s about two women. Also, I really, really, really connected with how the novel escalates at the end and spirals. I love that acceleration and how, again, the nurse, the rationalist, is somehow forced to transcend science and even reason, in order to save herself and maybe save the girl.”
Asked if the story was in any way based on fact, Donoghue revealed that it was fictional but nevertheless had its roots in reality. “The Wonder is based on many different cases of so-called ‘fasting girls’ from the 16th right through to the 20th century,” she said. “Every now and then it hits the headlines that some young woman or child is able to live without food. It’s a persistent cultural fantasy. And many of these stories were really grim ones — too grim even for me, as someone who’s often written about dark things. But then it came to me that I could write a fictional one, and I thought I should set it in Ireland, my home country, because Ireland has such a history of, say, hunger strikes and famine. So, the question of whether or not to eat or whether or not you can eat has been a very fraught question in Irish history.”
To hear more about The Wonder, click the link.
The Deadline Studio is sponsored by dr Liza + the[fix] and Watford Group. Special thanks to our partner Soluna.