One of my very early blog posts in May 2012 was a book review of Room by Emma Donoghue which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010. Last month, I attended a preview screening at The Hospital Club in central London of the new film adaptation directed by Lenny Abrahamson with a screenplay written by Donoghue herself. Starring Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as her son Jack, ‘Room’ has already received widespread critical acclaim including four Academy Award nominations earlier today and has dominated film festivals around the world. It had a limited release last October in the United States and will open in cinemas across the UK tomorrow on Friday 15th January 2016.
Those who have read ‘Room’ will know that it isn’t a “typical” Man Booker Prize shortlisted book in the literary sense but its depiction of a child’s understanding of growing up in captivity is extremely powerful. Looking back at my review, it seems that I thought Donoghue’s portrayal of Jack was a little uneven although I really don’t remember that having a major impact on either my enjoyment of the book or its overall effectiveness. Inspired by the Josef Fritzl case in Austria which came to light in 2008, it tells the story of Ma, kidnapped by Old Nick seven years ago when she was a teenager and held against her will in a tiny shed known as Room. Her five year old son Jack fathered by Old Nick has never left Room and his understanding of the world “outside” is very limited.
In many ways, ‘Room’ reminded me of the film adaptation of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ in that it’s an excellent film in its own right which may even win over those who were less keen on the book. While Lionel Shriver’s novel was told through Eva’s letters to her estranged husband, ‘Room’ is told entirely from Jack’s point of view as a young child who knows nothing of the world “outside”. It’s a challenging perspective to translate on screen and it’s one that ‘Room’ mostly succeeds in portraying convincingly.
Brie Larson’s performance as Ma has rightfully been singled out for praise and her on-screen chemistry with Jacob Tremblay who was just seven years old during filming movingly portrays the strong bond between Ma and Jack. The harrowing sense of claustrophobia isn’t just confined to the early scenes set in Room itself. In the second half of the film after the gripping scenes of Jack and Ma’s escape, they become imprisoned once again both physically by the media camped outside their home and emotionally as they struggle to adjust to life “outside”.
Overall, the film is inevitably less subtle than the book as the viewer doesn’t need to read between the lines in quite the same way that the reader has to interpret the surroundings according to Jack’s limited understanding of the world around him. However, despite the challenges in portraying Jack’s perspective of events, the film remains extraordinarily effective thanks to two outstanding performances by Larson and Tremblay who successfully convey the emotional power of Jack and Ma’s bond without descending into mawkishness.
‘Room’ is out on general release in UK cinemas tomorrow. Many thanks to Eric from Lonesome Reader for inviting me to the screening.