Film Review: Serena (USA, France & Czech Republic, 2014)


Serena is an adaptation of a Ron Rash novel that at times is considered even too strange to be fiction. This period drama starts off as a sumptuous, romantic tale set in North Carolina during the Depression. It is a slow burn to begin with but in the final act it turns into a bizarre melodrama where a suspension of disbelief is not just recommended but essential.

The film is directed by Susanne Bier and sees Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) working together again. The former plays George Pemberton, an ambitious entrepreneur who is building his own logging empire. The latter plays the eponymous lead character, a spirited and independent woman who was never going to sit on her laurels, much less sip tea in society or do needlework.

The two characters have a whirlwind romance and the actors also share a noticeable chemistry. Upon meeting, Pemberton says, “I think we should be married” and in the next scene they are. When Pemberton brings Serena to his home and introduces her to the business (where he also declares that she is equal to any man there) this upsets his business partner, Buchanan (David Dencik) who appears to harbour feelings for the boss. Tragedy then strikes but the various subplots involving a corrupt sheriff (Toby Jones), a business manager (Sean Harris), a crazed logger (Rhys Ifans) and the mother of an illegitimate child (Ana Ularu) feel very forced and convoluted.

There is no denying that Serena is a pretty picture. There are lots of sweeping shots of misty mountaintops and forests and the costumes boast the flash and pomp of the era. But this style cannot redeem a film that began as a realistic-enough period drama from descending into full-blown madness or a preposterous melodrama of epic proportions.

The themes in Serena are interesting- from betrayal to obsession and jealousy via greed, many human follies are examined. But despite some great power plays plus corruption, lies and tragedies involving love and loyalty, this film simply isn’t as good as it should have been.

In all, this disturbing tale seems to skip over some aspects of the plot while granting too much time to other elements. The result is something that at its worst is banal and strange and at its best is just plain ordinary. This movie may have boasted some fine produce for ingredients but something got spoiled in the cooking.


Serena is now playing in cinemas nationally.


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