A young lady rides her horse carefree in the woods. Suddenly, a man appears behind her. “What are you doing?” she justifiably asks. “Just came to say hello,” he answers. “Hello,” she replies. The man presents himself. “George Pemberton,” he says. “Serena Shaw,” she responds. “I think we should be married,” George tells her. She laughs. Three minutes later, after a quick succession of shots depicting the joyful moments that these two lovebirds share, we find them newly married in Louisiana. You may think that romance was easy in the 1930s but the fact is that these two characters are played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It’s their third movie together (after Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) and we know that they have strong chemistry together, so this romance seemed inevitable from the start.
With a modest duration of 102 minutes the film wastes no time in putting in place all the pieces that make an engrossing depression-era drama: there’s two fierce but flawed central characters who have their own demons to face, supporting characters who are there to make the protagonist’s lives difficult (a sheriff and a henchman gamely played by Toby Jones and Rhys Ifans respectively) and a tragedy that concludes a bigger-than-life romance. So nothing in this film is particularly original but acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier treats the story with her characteristic sensibility, getting under the skin of the characters. A special mention must be given to the beautiful landscapes and the high production values that transport you back to the 19th century.
For lovers of old-school melodrama then, Serena will be a good-night out. The cynics amongst the audience though may well think that all this drama unfolding in the screen could be avoided if Mr’s Pemberton pick-up line was something different from a marriage proposal. (Words: Apostolos Kostoulas)
Serena had its world premiere at the 58th BFI London Film Festival and it will be released nationwide on 24 October.