In solidarity with striking SAG-AFTRA members, Kristin Scott Thomas was a no-show at the Toronto International Film Festival world premiere of her directorial debut, “North Star.” Finola Dwyer, one of its two producers, said during her own introduction that the film is loosely autobiographical for the actress-turned-filmmaker, who also shares screenwriting credit with John Micklethwait.
While it’s known Scott Thomas’s mother had two husbands, both of whom were Navy flyers who died while on duty, it’s a bit of a shame that Scott Thomas wasn’t on hand to clarify exactly to what extent the story is based on her real family and how much artistic license she took.
The story revolves around three sisters living disparate lives reuniting for the wedding of their twice-widowed mother, Diana, played by Scott Thomas herself. Katherine (Scarlett Johansson) has followed in her late father’s footsteps to become a captain in the Royal Navy. Victoria (Sienna Miller) lives a life of vapid glamour as an actress in Hollywood and Georgina (Emily Beecham), eschewing both fame and adventure, has settled down to work as a nurse and raise a family.
The sisters weren’t all conceived during the same marriage and suffer the
mutual trauma of having lost a Naval officer father early in life. But per their archetypes, they have responded differently and developed distinct coping mechanisms for their daddy issues.
Katherine, career focused just as her father was, neglects her own kid and her life partner, Jack (Freida Pinto). For some reason she seems especially triggered by the prospect of Diana changing her family name again. Victoria has a penchant for older men and, as if par for the course of her profession, winds up being the mistress of a rich sugar dad. Georgina strives for the picture-perfect family that she’s turned a blind eye to the infidelity of her husband, Jeremy (Joshua McGuire).
Scott Thomas demonstrates a knack for visual storytelling early on, using charcoal
animation to illustrate Katherine’s memories. The movie ends with cinematographer Yves Bélanger’s crafting an impressively cinematic aerial shot, pulling back from the deck of Katherine’s ship.
Scott Thomas extracts solid performances from her cast, even though one can’t help but think the role of Katherine may have been better suited for, say, Kate Winslet. But there’s a discernible lack of chemistry among them, such that they don’t resonate as a family. Johansson and Pinto also fail to convince as estranged life partners. This is especially glaring when comparing the film with “His Three Daughters,” also shown this year at TIFF. It’s unclear whether this is a function of writing and direction.
The premise and protracted nuptial proceedings recall the late ’90s wedding movie craze that included Scott Thomas’s own “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” which may well have inspired her to set this as the centerpiece of the story. But it’s hardly what makes the film memorable.
“North Star” doesn’t really come together until a pivotal scene in which Diana calls out her daughters’ idolization of their absent fathers in the face of her having had to raise the three of them as a single mom. It’s a sincere and heartfelt message that more than justifies this entire artistic exercise.
Even so, Diana’s finally speaking her piece seems to have little direct influence on the daughters’ metamorphoses in the end. Sure, individually they are all better off, but there’s no telling whether they’ve truly healed as a family.
“North Star” is a sales title at TIFF.