Cordelia Review

A once promising, but now reclusive actress, Cordelia (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) lives in a London flat cocooned from the world to protect herself from past pain. When her twin sister goes away for a weekend, she is approached by her charming, cello-playing neighbour (Johnny Flynn). Could this be love, or something more sinister…?

by Nev Pierce |
Updated on
Release Date:

23 Oct 2020

Original Title:


Grief, guilt and sanity are explored in this oddly haunting psychological thriller. While dealing with historical trauma, it almost feels itself like an artefact from another age, featuring such anachronistic elements as a landline, 35mm Kodak film and complicated, human characters.


In the lead, Antonia Campbell-Hughes gives a performance of somehow fierce vulnerability (contrasted with another performance of exasperated compassion, as her twin). It would have been very easy to be indulgent, especially playing an actress, Cordelia, who is due to play Cordelia — the daughter King Lear banished. But Campbell-Hughes’ sense of sincere dislocation, sorrow and quiet anger itself banishes any pretension. She’s a velvet glove pulled over barbed wire. Johnny Flynn follows Beast (a poster of which can be glimpsed here on the Underground) with another performance which somehow embodies every option in shag/marry/kill, and the world outside the frame is filled in by brief but compelling support (the very touching Michael Gambon, the always interesting Joel Fry).

Like its title character, you just don't know where it's going to go.

The film presents more questions than answers, perhaps, and some might find this frustrating, but it’s part of what makes it linger — putting you in the headspace of its lead, gaslit by her potential lover and/or herself. More kudos to Campbell-Hughes, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Adrian Shergold, who brings the skill and confidence of decades in television to make something extremely difficult — compelling cinema in a confined space — appear straightforward.

Following his Fosse-esque Funny Cow, here he can inevitably be seen as following Polanski, with Repulsion the obvious touchstone for a film of someone unravelling — or being unravelled — in an apartment. But it’s saying something that the film isn’t shamed by the comparison, with its enveloping photography providing an aesthetic of thriftstore opulence and its atmosphere an unpredictable blend of clamminess, dread and desire. Like its title character, you just don’t know where it’s going to go.

Part thriller, part character study, Cordelia is eerie and atmospheric, putting you in the fractured headspace of its desperate lead. An impressive dual achievement from co-writer/star Antonia Campbell-Hughes.
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