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Felicia's Journey

Year: 1999
Language: English
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 116 min
Director: Atom Egoyan
Producer: Robert Lantos, Bruce Davey
Executive Producer: Paul Tucker, Ralph Kamp
Writer: Atom Egoyan, William Trevor
Cinematographer: Paul Sarossy
Editor: Susan Shipton
Sound: Steven Munro
Music: Mychael Danna
Cast: Arsinée Khanjian, Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy, Peter McDonald, Claire Benedict
Production Company: Icon Productions, Alliance Atlantis Pictures International

A pregnant Irish teenager, Felicia (Elaine Cassidy) has been cast out of her home by her uncaring father because she carries the child of a British solider named Johnny (Peter McDonald), who has abandoned her. Virtually penniless, carrying only a small knapsack, she travels to England in search of Johnny, with only the name of the city where he is presumably working.

Arriving in Birmingham, Felicia has a chance meeting with the paternal and solicitous Joseph Ambrose Hilditch (Bob Hoskins). A catering supervisor who lives alone in the childhood home he shared with his mother (Arsinée Khanjian, seen in poignant and subtly disturbing flashbacks), Hilditch kindly offers to give Felicia a helping hand. However, she is not the first young woman he has "helped." As Felicia increasingly places her trust in a man who has offered her respite from an uncaring world, Hilditch’s true nature gradually emerges.

Atom Egoyan’s first foray into genre storytelling – a suspense-thriller of the serial-killer variety – is a surreally atmospheric screen adaptation of William Trevor’s novel and arguably the filmmaker’s most accessible work to date. A multi-layered, but deceptively simple, masterpiece of psychological insight and understanding, Felicia’s Journey is truly creepy and unsettling, while offering an eerily cathartic conclusion.

Interweaving past and present in an absorbing and illuminating manner, Egoyan heightens the tension between the characters and blurs their motivations, while subtly supplementing Trevor’s Gothic-flavoured fable to express his typically tricky cinematic vision. The scenes of Hilditch obsessively watching videos of his mother’s old cooking shows – which provide mysterious and humorous hints at the nature of his neurosis – are not present in the book, but were added by Egoyan (echoing his earlier Family Viewing, in which a young man compensates for the mysterious absence of his mother by constantly replaying her image on video).

Though Egoyan was not permitted to set the film in Canada (he had hoped to cast Felicia as a French-Canadian who comes to Victoria, B.C., but the producers were contractually obligated to set the film in England at Trevor’s insistence), the story, subject matter and genre still allow him to combine his trademark thematic concerns and rich mise-en-scPne with a more purposeful emphasis on character and plot. Egoyan also seizes the opportunity to channel his inner Hitchcock, most obviously in the slow building of suspense that makes the simple plot work so effectively, but also in the film’s frequent touches of clever humour (the numerous birds’ eggs that decorate Hilditch’s home are a tongue-in-cheek nod to the stuffed birds on Norman Bates’ walls in Pyshco).

Egoyan again proves himself to be a skilful director of actors. Newcomer Elaine Cassidy delivers an endearingly innocent performance as Felicia, while Bob Hoskins gives a remarkably restrained and oddly compassionate portrayal of a repressed, middle-aged mama’s boy with a violent, psychopathic streak.

The opening night film of the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival®, Felicia’s Journey played to critical acclaim in Canada, the United States and Europe, and enjoyed modest box office success. It went on to earn ten Genie Award nominations, winning prizes for Adapted Screenplay (Egoyan), Lead Actor (Hoskins), Cinematography (Paul Sarossy) and Musical Score (Mychael Danna).