Lies We Tell: Agnes O’Casey steals the show in Uncle Silas remake

Lisa Mulcahy’s film feels brighter and bolder than would best suit the material

Lies We Tell
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Director: Lisa Mulcahy
Cert: 16
Starring: Agnes O’Casey, David Wilmot, Holly Sturton, Chris Walley, Grainne Keenan
Running Time: 1 hr 29 mins

For more than 150 years, Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas has been a dusty jewel of gothic fiction. It feels as if the story has been adapted for the screen more often than has been the case. A plucky heiress. A sinister relative who stands to inherit all her money if she falls down a well. How did Hammer not get round to it?

We do, at least, have an impressively lean new version from the experienced TV director Lisa Mulcahy. Lies We Tell lacks the cobwebby atmosphere we expect from adaptations of 19th-century sensation fiction. Not all the secondary characters are satisfactorily fleshed out. But a startlingly strong performance from fast-rising Agnes O’Casey – vulnerable one moment, a pillar of marble the next – sets the film out from the pack. One thinks a little of Florence Pugh’s arrival in the not-entirely-dissimilar Lady Macbeth. And that is not faint praise.

Large chunks of the novel’s opening sections have been excised. At more rapid pace than on the page, young Maud finds herself propelled into Uncle Silas’s guardianship and introduced to her cousins Emily and Edward (Holly Sturton and sometime Young Offender Chris Walley). Silas is suspected of murdering an old gambling acquaintance and of generally being the most appalling moustache-twirler imaginable. We soon gather he is plotting to marry his son to Maud and thus work his own way towards her fortune.

The reliable David Wilmot brings unexpected saloon-bar matiness to this version of Silas (at least at first). We get some sense of how he wins over unsuspecting financial prey. As the film progresses, however, Mulcahy allows the reality of sexual violence – uncomfortably explicit in one scene – and the cruelty of pseudoscientific misogyny greater prominence. This is a society in which icy showers are prescribed for the condition of female “hysteria” (the term derived from the Greek for “womb”).


That approach does come with some loss of ambience. The film feels brighter and bolder than would best suit the material. Happily, O’Casey’s strong presence offers much compensation. This is a woman hard done by, but the actor knows how to stand prouder than the figurehead of a galleon under bombardment. Let’s see her as Joan of Arc.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist