Gideon's Daughter

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Gideon's Daughter Movie Poster Image
Well-acted, witty dad-daughter BBC drama.
  • NR
  • 2006
  • 106 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Though Gideon Warner obsesses about the love and approval of his estranged daughter and the mistakes he's made with her, he is careless and apathetic about most of the other people in his life, except his new girlfriend Stella (an established lover he pretty much takes for granted, and she most agreeably fades away). Stella, for her part, is a quirky and pleasant divorced woman recovering from unbearable tragedy. She announces that she doesn't believe in God, never has, but attends a church choir faithfully in order to feel something. Gideon's daughter has strong environmentalist leanings, but is otherwise rather impenetrable.

Violence

Minor scuffling, as a bereaved father attacks people on the street. A news report on TV about a string of murders.

Sex

A lovemaking session, with a buxom, topless woman seen from behind afterwards. Women in low-cut gowns at celebrations. Gideon and his daughter speak separately (she at a school assembly!) of the sexual conquests of a famed French author, and a stand-up comic tells a raunchy joke.

Language

"Bastard" and "God damn." One especially taboo word from a stand-up comedian.

Consumerism

Except for British tourism, maybe. There's a discernible effort to keep known products offscreen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social imbibing.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the narrative begins with what looks like a prostitute visiting a half-naked man in a sex-for-money deal -- but it's a tease; she's a secretary and he's hired her to dictate a memoir. While a teen girl is a key character, this is very much a grown-up drama, about people prominent in London society, romance across (British) social-class lines, and Anglo-specific icons of the last ten years, like the Millennium Dome. If the most your kids know about England is what they get from Harry Potter, then the subtleties will escape them. Subplots concern parents mourning for a dead boy, or the possibility of a child's murder.

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What's the story?

Gideon Warner (Bill Nighy) is a self-made man, a chauffeur's son who manages to become a public-relations wizard in London. Widowed, he has a sexy lover and his firm is trying to land a prestigious project managing a huge New Year's Eve 1999 bash, which the queen will attend. But Gideon is distracted. He worries about his detached teen daughter Natasha (Emily Blunt). Gideon makes a connection across social boundaries when he meets Stella (Miranda Richardson), whose young son was hit by a truck and killed. Free-spirited and upbeat despite her deep grief, Stella introduces Gideon to her un-posh environment. Gideon reveals to her the family tragedy for which Natasha has apparently never forgiven him. The irony, of course, is that an in-demand PR professional like Gideon can't communicate with his child. As he grows more distracted with Natasha and Stella, Gideon finds himself blanking out at work. His apathy and pointless non-sequitur remarks are mistaken by his clients as signs of brilliance and wisdom, and his plans for the millennium celebrations are put into action. Meanwhile he makes a desperate bid to reconcile with his daughter.

Is it any good?

Gideon's Daughter is not a formulaic Hollywood product, but a thoughtful British drama combining real-life events and personalities of the recent past with a fictional father-daughter divide. The film has a puzzling set-up and chronology, as a man named Sneath (Robert Lindsay) begins dictating Gideon's story to his secretary. It helps to know that Sneath was a character in a previous BBC drama by writer-director Stephen Poliakoff entitled Friends and Crocodiles; if you don't have knowledge of late 20th-century British events, such as the building of the Millennium Dome or the election of the Tony Blair government, much of the backdrop will be confusing.

The narrative is a slow-simmering affair, consistently watchable thanks to the witty dialogue, sterling performances, a lush orchestral music score, and no clearly predictable path for the story to go next. Of course, when it doesn't go much of anywhere (leaving the ultimate fate of the main players to Sneath's guesswork; even he isn't sure) … there you are.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the grief of the parents in this movie for their lost children, or the void between Gideon and Natasha. Does he deserve the cold treatment? Or is he overreacting to a typical teen's yearning for independence? Gideon's withdrawal, lack of attention, and tardiness at work are all traits that are amusingly mistaken for signs of brilliance. You might emphasize to young viewers that only in the movies is poor job performance rewarded with being declared a genius.

Movie details

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