Anna (a perfect performance from Charlotte Rampling) is a lonely but still sensuous woman ‘of a certain age’ who tries to lose herself in the emptiness of speed-dating, not only to find some fleeting human connection but also – we begin to suspect – to avoid processing some long-buried tragedy from her past. But when her latest encounter takes a very nasty and fatal turn, Anna’s life is thrown into fresh turmoil. As Anna’s trauma boils to the surface, it is only Gabriel Byrne’s troubled detective who can possibly decode the mystery. But will it be too late to save her?

‘I, Anna’ is the feature debut of accomplished British television director Barnaby Southcombe – who also happens to be Charlotte Rampling’s son – which not only adds an intriguing frisson to the project but also considerably raises their personal stakes to ‘get it right’. If the film had backfired neither Ms. Rampling or Mr. Southcombe would have had anywhere to hide. As it is, the gamble more than succeeded. ‘I, Anna’ is an enthralling and remarkably atmospheric achievement.I-anna-movie-poster

In lesser hands, the film could have unravelled badly. It plays on the edge of urban film noir and flirts with melodrama, but avoids the pitfalls of both. It deals with the kind of complex, dark emotions – the psychic wounds, hidden behind the eyes – that are difficult to translate onto film, and yet the story never becomes maudlin or confused and the pace is deceptively brisk. It’s also, in a small way, a thriller with a touch of police procedural and (in my opinion) police procedurals never work when they’re set in the UK. British cops just aren’t as edgy and romantic as their US counterparts and when they show up on the big screen it invariably feels like a too-big episode of ‘The Bill’. But ‘I, Anna’ never feels that way. Barnaby Southcombe and Gabriel Byrne got that side of things absolutely right.

And ‘I, Anna’ isn’t a love story, which – with leads as attractive and charismatic as Rampling and Byrne – would have been an obvious direction to take, but their relationship is deeper and more truthful than that. And Barnaby Southcombe’s decision to end the story where he does (he also wrote the screenplay, adapted from Elsa Lewin’s novel) was the right one.

Charlotte Rampling is superb. She still has one of the most intriguing and enigmatic faces in film, with her fine cheekbones and take no prisoners stare, but she’s proof positive (as are Julie Christie and Helen Mirren) that although beauty may subtly alter with age, age only enhances beauty. And Anna has a depth and fragility to her which is also quite hypnotic.

Similarly, Gabriel Byrne is a little more dishevelled and awkward than we’re used to seeing him, but he seems more real because of it. These are imperfect characters on a journey with an uncertain destination, and there is nothing ‘film star’ about either performance, only a sad and disarming honesty.

Hayley Atwell, as Anna’s daughter, and Eddie Marsan, as another cop about to collide with Anna’s secret, also give fine support. There’s also a very neat, feisty little cameo from Honor Blackman as another speed-dating refugee who gives Anna a humorously un-PC pep-talk. 

‘I, Anna’ is gorgeous to look at. There’s an almost alternative-reality feel to Southcombe’s meticulous camerawork, a palette of greys and blues, stark whites and deep blacks, reflections, distortions and wide angles. The formidable geometry of London’s architecture has rarely looked this good on screen. And for that reason it’s sad that ‘I, Anna’ has only had a limited (if thankfully protracted) release, touring the UK with its director, showing at Festivals, but not getting the exposure it truly deserves.  The film looks wonderful on my screener copy. I can only imagine how beautiful it must look in a darkened auditorium.

Apparently some people who like to predict the endings of movies have seen the film’s final twist coming. All I can say is, I found ‘I, Anna’ so engaging that the final part of her story, held off until the very end, really surprised me. The revelation didn’t feel forced and it didn’t feel obvious, and I watched ‘I, Anna’ three times over as many days and discovered something new and fascinating on each viewing.

I wish Ms. Rampling would make more movies. I certainly hope that Barnaby Southcombe makes his next movie very soon.

Don’t miss ‘I, Anna’. And if you have the chance to see her on the big screen, make sure you take it.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white