1862, 13 years after the Great Famine. Young English nurse, Elizabeth Wright (Florence Pugh) is entrusted with a major mission. She is sent 15 days in the Irish Midlands to dive into the heart of a devout community in order to investigate what seems to be a miracle. She must thus discover the truth about Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy), an 11-year-old girl who claims not to have eaten anything for 4 months and to have survived despite everything. If the community in which Anna lives clings to its beliefs that should not be questioned, Elizabeth wants to lift the veil on this mystery, especially since the girl’s health is rapidly deteriorating.
This mysterious story is that of The Wonder by Sebastián Lelio visible from this Wednesday, November 16 on Netflix. Worn by Florence Pugh, Niamh Algar and David Wilmot, this film is adapted from a book of the same name published in 2016 by Emma Donogue. For this thriller-style novel set in the 19th century, the British novelist was greatly inspired by a strange phenomenon that really existed at that time. Several girls or teenagers have indeed claimed that, by a divine miracle, they could survive without food.
One of the cases ended in a real tragedy. Become famous for having proclaimed that she had not eaten for 2 years, the young Welshwoman Sarah Jacobs was hospitalized for several days for doctors to examine her case. Her parents, who believed in this supernatural power, refused that any food be given to their daughter during this stay. Result: despite the warnings of her doctors who qualified this story as fraud, the young girl finally died of starvation and her parents were sentenced for “manslaughter”.
“When I came across these real cases of fasting young girls from the 16th to the 20th century, I thought ‘That’s the weirdest thing ever’ and then I was like ‘no, that’s totally understandable fact, isn’t it?” It’s a bit like they’re terrified of becoming girls in a culture that sees them as sex objects (…) There was a Welsh case in the 1870s – Sarah Jacobs. It was too sad for me to write about it because basically a newspaper hired nurses who watched her for, I think a week, and she died”Emma Donoghue told Newsweek.
“I came across this case in the late 1990s and I remember thinking, ‘Okay, even I have my limits’. It’s just desperately sad. But I finally thought much later that I I could do a fictional case, which wouldn’t be as heartbreaking and which I could choose the form of, but still inspired by the somewhat frightening realities of these cases without being really bound to the way this story ended “she concluded.