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Wonderland Review

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Five days in the life of three sisters, during which their lives begin to unravel.

★★★★

Covering five days in the lives of a South London family slowly fraying at the edges, Wonderland is a subtle, moving and evocative document of capital life at the end of the 90s. Boasting strong performances from all involved - with the sense that Shirley Henderson and Gina McKee in particular have relished the challenge of their front-line status - and a vaguely Dogme-like production approach (handheld footage shot on location with no artificial lighting or extras), the film manages to paint London in shaky, oversaturated colour while still managing to retain a sense of the city's inherent greyness.

Wonderland is built upon four inter-weaving plotlines concerning three sisters: the loveless and quietly desperate Nadia (McKee), forcing herself through the undignified process of lonely hearts dating; heavily pregnant Molly (Parker) and partner Eddie (John Simm), a fitted kitchen salesman with an overwhelming urge to ditch his day job; and white-trashy good-time girl Debbie (Henderson, with an impressively guttural South London accent), her half-neglected 11 year-old son and their dealings with his largely errant dad (a brilliantly scally Ian Hart).

Add to all this the suffocating, disintegrating marriage of their parents, Eileen and Bill (Kika Markham and Jack Shepherd), and the result is a patchwork narrative that collages poignant and dryly funny set-pieces, as the characters' lives unravel over one long weekend. But, performances aside, it's the high-production documentary quality of the film - the bingo hall scene where the pitted faces of real housewives are shot completely unawares, or the way that passers-by throw inquisitive stares at the camera - that brings a tangible sense of reality to the proceedings. Yet the gritty feel is given bizarre beauty, courtesy of Michael Nyman's score.

As a study of how loneliness and desperation can go painfully unnoticed as it's absorbed by the big city - the moment where a romantically ditched Nadia travels home on a bus full of revelry is one of the most moving - Wonderland is nothing less than a superb piece of filmmaking.

London has never looked more lonely - or more haunting.

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