Dir: William Oldroyd | Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway | US Thriller | 97′
Flawed but captivating nonetheless, this latest psychological thriller from William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth) comes alive with dazzling lead performances from Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway as emotionally abused young career women in 1960s New England. Oldroyd stunned us with his first feature Lady Macbeth, seven years later his follow up lacks the same conviction
Adapted from Ottessa Moshfegh’s Booker prize-shortlisted novel, Eileen is certainly intriguing and stylish with its retro aesthetic and echoes of Todd Haynes’ Carol, albeit set a decade later. The female centric story, revolving around two troubled characters, initially catches fire but then drifts between several strands never quite coming together as a lesbian-themed folie-a-deux that ends in tragedy.
Hathaway and McKenzie certainly inject powerful onscreen chemistry in the same vein as Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara did as the blond bombshell and sultry sales girl in Carol. Here the workplace in not a glossy department store but a grim remand centre for young men where the earnest young Eileen (McKenzie), 24, is enduring a meaningless existence as a put-upon administrator living at home with a mean, alcoholic father (Wigham). When we first meet her, Eileen is nursing romantic rejection and a broken down car in a snowbound Boston of 1964.
When Hathaway’s Rebecca joins the facility, a psychologist tasked with a difficult case involving a an inmates and his mother, Eileen is immediately caught in the headlights of Rebecca’s glamour and starts to fantasise about her, professionally and sexually.
In Luke Goebel’s script Eileen is the more fully fleshed-out character with the bleached blond, brown-eyed Rebecca remaining enigmatic and underwritten. Clearly the the psychologist harbours a few skeletons in the cupboard, and is not the strong, self-realised women she appears to be, but spiky and unsettling with a penchant for downing martinis in a local bar where the two women flirt, Eileen gradually falling under Rebecca’s spell as their relationship unravels with events taking a sinister turn.
The film reaches its heady climax with this unpredictable state of affairs, but soon fizzles out in the unconvincing final stages, all thematic complexity lost in the rather hasty, melodramatic ‘crime thriller’ conclusion.
William Oldroyd’s Eileen is a fascinating watch despite its an ending that fails to make sense. The two sizzling performances: the delicate soulfulness of McKenzie and Hathaway’s brittle, hard-edged and unstable antiheroine make for a heady mix in a pulpy portrait of femmes fatales in a pickle. @MeredithTaylor
IN UK CINEMAS FROM 1 DECEMBER 2023