- Film & TV
- 06 Dec 22
Boasting another bravura performance from Irish star Paul Mescal, father-daughter drama Aftersun is one of the year’s most acclaimed films. Molly Cantwell meets lead actress Frankie Corio and writer-director Charlotte Wells
Hailed as one of the best films of 2022, Aftersun marks the feature film debut of writer-director Charlotte Wells. It stars beloved Irish actor Paul Mescal as a young father, Calum, while breakout actress Frankie Corio portrays his 11-year-old daughter, Sophie.
Twenty years after she last saw Calum, Sophie reflects on that time, which they spent together in a Turkish holiday resort. Slowly creeping into adolescence, Sophie is trying to uncover her sexuality, and spending rare time with her young father, often mistaken for her brother.
Calum struggles with money issues, whilst also trying to create a memorable holiday with Sophie. Her reflections become a powerful and heartbreaking portrait of their relationship, as she tries to reconcile the dad she knew with the man she didn’t.
While a fictional story, Wells has admitted that parts of her life have crept into the film.
“I always write, as most people do, from a personal space, regardless of how removed the story itself is, and this is less removed than other things I’ve worked on,” the writer-director confirms. “I would use memories and anecdotes to form a very loose outline of the script. For example, I remember my dad teaching me how to pot a pool ball resting against a cushion, so I’d write a scene where Calum does that with Sophie. That isn’t integral to plot or character, but it’s using memories and specific details to build from.”
Newcomer Corio stuns with her incredibly natural performance, and while she’s new to the screen, the young actress quickly adapted to life in front of the camera.
“It was cool and weird at the same time,” she reflects. “I never knew it took two months to film. Most things were confusing, because it’s obviously my first film, so I barely knew anything. But at the same time, it was really exciting.”
Discussing Aftersun’s critical acclaim, Wells and Corio laugh about how Frankie’s mom reads “every single thing that has an Aftersun hashtag.”
“It’s very surreal,” Wells admits. “I obviously didn’t go about making the film with the intention of having all of these superlatives, but it’s amazing – you’re not going to complain. It’s very special that so many people have connected with the film, and that it’s received such a warm response.”
Aesthetically, Aftersun is decidedly pared back – a simple, heartbreaking story of the relationship between a father and daughter. Though it’s a bittersweet tale, it still leaves viewers with a warm glow.
Sophie’s attempt to cheer up her father – encouraging a crowd to sing him ‘Happy Birthday’ – becomes the most adorable moment. And her testimonials on-camera calling Calum “the best dad” would warm the coldest of hearts.
Mescal, meanwhile, has completely outdone himself in the role of Calum, a young father clearly lost in life and wrought with mental health issues. It’s a remarkably raw and distressing performance.
“While I was writing the story, I became aware of conventions I was working with or against,” says Wells. “The single-father/daughter relationship wasn’t a relationship I’d seen. That was part of what inspired me to make it, as I felt I was exploring new territory. I was interested in an expression of some truth from my own relationship, and the love that I experienced.
“I was also interested in this character who was better at being a dad than he was at things like paying his credit card bill, or whatever else. That was really the best version of himself, and he found strength and solace in it. That’s why the holiday is like a pressure cooker that builds, because ultimately, it’s going to end and how does that feel as you get toward the end?”
The two light up when discussing working with Mescal.
“I love Paul, he’s my best friend,” Frankie gushes. “He’s a great, amazing actor, and he has some serious skills.”
“He was like a partner to Frankie and a partner to me,” enthuses Charlotte. “It was a really beautiful and quietly intimate experience. The first two weeks of rehearsals I’d spend a lot of time off doing tech scouts, though I’d spend the morning with the guys. Otherwise, it was mostly them hanging out getting to know each other. I think by necessity, and also for the sake of the film, we tried to create a close and warm environment.”
Without spoiling the film, let’s just say the closing few moments of Aftersun have left a lot of viewers in tears. Indeed, it’s been hailed as the “best final shot of any movie in years.”
“A lot of thought went into a sequence that could tie together the worlds of the film,” explains Wells. “The ending felt like an opportunity to bind them and give the film some cohesion. I don’t remember at which point I had him walk through those doors. It just felt like a way to tie it all together. Fortunately, it worked. I wish I could say it was always that way, or it was one of the easier parts of the film, but it wasn’t.”
• Aftersun is in cinemas now.
- Film & TV
- 06 Jan 23