SXSW Review – A Picture of a Maddening Marriage in ‘Magpie’

SXSW Review – A Picture of a Maddening Marriage in ‘Magpie’
Daisy Ridley as Anette in Magpie, directed by Sam Yates. | Credit: Rob Baker Ashton

People stay in bad marriages for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is children, but there can also be hope that things will return to the honeymoon period that started the romance and has now become a distant memory. Magpie introduces its protagonist when there’s nothing resembling love left in her marriage, and the gap between how she perceives the relationship and how her truly detestable husband does couldn’t be any wider. What ensues is an intriguing and intensifying rollercoaster of bad decisions and the frustrating and mind-boggling inaction of the long-suffering wife watching it all happen.

Anette (Daisy Ridley) has an important meeting coming up, and her husband Ben (Shazad Latif) barely even looks at her when she asks for his advice on what to wear. Worse still, the next morning, he’s ready to take their daughter Tilly (Hiba Ahmed) to set for her first day of shooting and he never bothered to tell Anette that he canceled the babysitter for their younger child, meaning that she has to bring the baby with her to see a colleague who couldn’t possibly see her as ready to come back to work. As Anette sits at home each day taking care of the baby, Ben falls hard for Alicia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), the actress playing Tilly’s mom.

It’s remarkable to see just how terrible a husband Ben is, and sadly it’s likely not a completely invented character since many men surely do believe themselves to be superior to their wives for no good reason. When Anette is helping Tilly get ready, Ben can’t be bothered to check on the baby because he’s looking for his phone, and he complains to Alicia about Anette as if she hates him, referring to her only as “Tilly’s mom.” He recognizes that his being away from the family for several months to do research for his next book wasn’t a positive choice, but doesn’t actually take any of the blame for his entirely selfish acts that essentially give Anette all the hard and boring jobs while allowing him to do nothing but accompany his daughter to a movie set each day.

Audiences will commend Anette for not having murdered her husband even just a few minutes into this film, and Ridley delivers a very reserved performance best perceived through the piercing looks she gives Ben and herself in the mirror. The script is full of witty lines that she gets to deliver that Ben barely even notices as the crude takedowns they are, like when Anette describes a tabloid article with a photo of Ben and Alicia as rude because he’s referred to as a mystery man and they should have been able to recognize a “famous author.” It’s nowhere near what he deserves, but there’s some twisted joy to be found in taking him down even a slight peg.

Ridley, whose husband Tom Bateman wrote those biting barbs and the rest of the screenplay, will surely attract fans of hers from her Star Wars fame who will find an entirely different kind of film waiting for them. Latif, capable of being a perfectly charming and romantic lead in the recent release What’s Love Got to Do with It?, does an extraordinary job of creating someone so actively absent from his marriage, not going over the top but bringing Ben as close as possible to the brink of believable arrogance. Lutz enhances the affair storyline as a celebrity seeking validation who is poisoned from the start by the demeaning and dishonest way Ben represents his marital status.

While it does take some time for the balance of power in this film to shift, it does happen, and it’s best for anyone who hasn’t seen the film to go in knowing nothing else. While its events do occur quickly enough, this is the definition of a slow burn where staying until the end provides a fabulous payoff. Magpie builds towards a fantastic finish, and, best of all, knows exactly when to cut to black, wrapping its story at the just the right point to provide a superb and satisfying high following ninety minutes of captivating uncertainty.    

Grade: B+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

Magpie makes its world premiere in the Narrative Spotlight section at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival.

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