Really powerful film making
, 23 Jul 2013
On Christmas Day 2004, foreign tourists from around the world were enjoying the sun and sea in Thailand resorts; the next day, they were overwhelmed by a tsunami that killed around a quarter of a million people in no less than 14 countries. There is really only one way to tell such a story on film and that is to reduce the gigantic horror to one family so that an audience can make a personal connection. So we are presented with a British family of five: father Henry (Ewan McGregor), mother Maria (Naomi Watts), and their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Predergast). Not too much time is spent setting the scene and introducing the characters before we are hit by the tsunami, a brilliant and scary realisation of a force of nature that can barely be comprehended. The narrative is then split in two as Maria and Lucas are swept many miles inland and Henry and the two youngest boys have no idea if the others have survived. Never lapsing into over-sentimentality or histrionics, the portrayal of survival against the odds is presented in an emotionally powerful and convincing manner that makes this always compelling and at times a hard film to watch. McGregor is excellent as the distraught husband, especially in a traumatic scene when he has to talk on a mobile to his father-in-law at home. But this is Naomi Watts' movie - she is brilliant and her wonderful performance won her an Academy Award nomination. Holland shows promise in the role of eldest son. And watch out for a cameo from Geraldine Chaplin. Although the opening of the film explains that it is based on a true story, only at the beginning of the credits do we learn that the family in question is Spanish. The full story of María Belón is not told in the film since, after leaving Thailand, she had to spend 14 months in hospitals in Singapore and Spain. So this is - in spite of being shot entirely in English - a Spanish work: director (Juan Antonio Bayona), writer (Sergio G. Sánchez), and crew are all Spanish and, as well as filming at the actual Thailand resort, most of the shooting was in Spain. In some ways, it is sad that a film about a tsunami that largely killed Asian citizens has to feature a European family and that even the family whose story has been chosen has to be English-speaking, but this is the reality of commercial moviemaking if one wants a film that will acquire funding and be seen around the world. At least, the first names of all the family members are simply English versions of the real Spanish names and many of the details of the film family - such as their living in Japan and Maria being a doctor - are true to life. Interestingly, at the time the film was released, the oldest two Spanish boys were studying in Britain.
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