Some films just arrive with the timely precision of a Swiss watch. Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is one such movie. Fennell, who was the showrunner on Season 2 of Killing Eve, is best known for playing Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown, though that’s likely to change now. Promising Young Woman has already gleaned multiple award nominations, winning two BAFTAs – including the Outstanding British Film. Next week, it competes at the Oscars, with Fennell nominated in three categories.
Set in a small American town, Promising Young Woman plays with that most contentious of sub-genres, the rape-revenge story. It feels like it’s been born out of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements that arrived after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke – although as stories about incidents of sexual abuse in British schools circulated recently, it’s hardly an issue restricted to Hollywood. Fennell’s film taps into the psychological damage that victims sustain and does so with devastating accuracy.
Carey Mulligan plays Cassie Thomas, a 30-year-old medical school dropout who still lives with her parents. When we first meet her, she is sitting in a bar alone, barely conscious from too much alcohol consumption. Except this is a ruse – as she is taken home by a ‘gentleman’ looking to take advantage of her, she reveals she’s stone-cold sober. Like some avenging angel, she promises retribution – specifically for her friend Nina, who was raped by her classmate Al (Chris Lowell) years earlier.
With the sets and costumes designed in bright bubblegum-pink and strawberry-red colours, Fennell’s film flirts with the romantic comedy genre too, and there’s even a scene where Cassie is seen lip-synching to a Paris Hilton track in the aisles of a supermarket. It’s a way, perhaps, of luring in viewers towards the final act, as the film takes an even darker turn, with the unhinged, unrepentant Cassie enacting a full-blooded plan of revenge against Al and his cronies.
True, the film doesn’t quite make the same visceral impact as Violation – another recent rape-revenge tale from co-directors Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer. This might be considered the more palatable version. But there’s no doubt that Fennell’s film has a serious side, spotlighting issues of retribution and the way victims are often left ignored or unheard. Mulligan is fully game for the role, never flinching for a second. It’s a performance that leaves an indelible impression.
Promising Young Woman is available on Sky Cinema. For more details, click here.