For a film that’s based on a novel published well over a century ago, What Maisie Knew feels remarkably modern. But then Henry James had a knack for slicing through to reality, and what could be more depressingly timeless than parents behaving badly? At first glance, gorgeous young Maisie has a charmed life. She lives in a designer cool Manhattan apartment, has a hot mess musician mother (Julianne Moore – think Patti Smith mashed up with Courtney Love) and a smooth, waggish father (Steve Coogan).

As her parents’ marriage breakdown goes ballistic, Maisie is the one left ricocheting between the battle camps. Not that the parents seem even aware of the hardship they’re putting their daughter through. Both are too swept up in their own self-interests to care and can fool themselves that the affection they inconsistently slather on their daughter salves their sins. I see therapy in this privileged Manhattanite’s future – and it’d be totally justified.

Yet directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel never milk her suffering. Maisie is a kid and never does anything contrived or even judges the adults around her. Onata Aprile carries the film with a wonderfully buoyant touch as Maisie, more than holding her own against veterans Moore and Coogan.

The film loses some of its thorniness and subtlety when sexy, kind step-parents played by Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Vanderham come on the scene. They’re almost too attractive as reluctant proxies. Nonetheless, wee Maisie is left with a choice that no adults should leave to a child. What Maisie Knew is an elegantly captured character piece that’s just as fresh and achingly moving today as it would have been in the 1890s.

‘What Maisie Knew’ Movie Times