“What Maise Knew” may be a new film but it tells the age-old story of a child involved in the turmoil of the end of her parents’ marriage. The Victorian age film has much to say about modern child support and it’s certainly not just about the support in dollars to be paid out by one spouse or the other.
Opening in the Twin Cities, the modern phenomenon of divorce and the emotional needs of the child is examined through Victorian satire in “What Maisie Knew.” In fact, the author and the director paint their theatric canvas through the eyes of a six-year-old girl whose parents, as they describe, are both using her as a weapon during the divorce battle, while at the same time being callously indifferent to her very existence.
According to legend, author Henry James penned the moving tale at the end of the 19th century. The Victorian author was astounded when he heard about the details of a divorce where the couple had agreed to “share” custody of the child. He thought that parceling out a child was such a terrible thing that it ignited his inspiration for penning “What Maisie Knew.”
Of course, joint custody these days is such a common feature of any divorce that includes children, that all the ruckus seems farfetched. But is it? James’ satirical novel damns Maisie’s parents as irresponsible to the nth degree and the very personification of a dysfunctional family.
This dysfunctional nature continues its insidious course even after the marriage dissolves. The hapless Maisie watches stoically as her natural parents sort of drift away from her and the traditional duties of parents fall to the two new spouses in the picture as the unhappy couple quickly remarry.
Selfishness pours from the screen as the natural parents pursue in earnest their respective careers. Both light and dark moments pepper the film with Julianne Moore as the mother, British comedian Steve Coogan as the father, Alexander Skarsgard as Maisie’s new stepfather and Joanna Vanderham as her new stepmother.
Victorian perspective or not, this modern adaptation can give divorcing couples a view of their conflict and foibles through the eyes of the most important character in the drama: the child. Divorce is never easy. Divorce when children are involved can be even more difficult. Team up with family law attorneys to mitigate, as much as possible, such a complex and often contentious process.
Source: MPRNEWS, “‘What Maisie Knew’ finds modern truths in Victorian satire” Euan Kerr, May. 23, 2013