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Nell (1994)

An ignorant wild woman of the woods shows that she has learned much about life in her isolation.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 108 minutes

UK Certificate: 12


Jodie Foster stars as Nell Kellty, a young woman who lives in the care of her mother in a backwoods cabin in the mountains. Nell has never learned conventional English speech, having spent her early years conversing in 'twin speech' with her twin sister until she died when they were six years old. Her mother has had a stroke which has distorted her language, and Nell has never seen anyone else or needed to talk to them. As a result, Nell speaks a language of her own – a blend of twin speech and garbled English. When Nell's mother dies, the outside world finally confronts her, in the shape of Drs Jerry Lovell (Liam Neeson) and Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson).

Dr Olsen believes that it would be best for Nell to be sent to an institution, where she can be helped and her language studied under pushy psychologist Dr Alexander Paley (Richard Libertini). Dr Lovell is less convinced – he believes that Nell is neither mentally subnormal nor unhappy, and should be left to get on with her life in her familiar environment. The case goes to court, which orders three months of study into Nell's situation before deciding what should be done with her. The two doctors begin to learn how Nell lives and make inroads into communicating with her. However, as Dr Olsen starts to understand that Nell may well be fine in her environment, that is changing as the outside world finds out about this mysterious wild woman. Press intrusion eventually convinces Dr Lovell that she can't stay where she is, but it has become clear that an institution may not be the answer either.

'Nell' is a touching and thoughtful drama that explores complex issues associated with whether it is always right for 'civilised' people to decide what is best for others, even if those others have no apparent need of 'help'. The film is very much a vehicle for Jodie Foster, who turns in an outstanding performance as Nell and confidently communicates in Nell's made-up language aided by great facial expressiveness. Of the two doctors, the most notable performance comes from Liam Neeson, who comes across as genuine and compassionate. The stunning use of wilderness scenery serves to emphasise that although Nell has none of the trappings of civilisation, she is far from deprived. Although the ending is fairly typical happy Hollywood, and there is perhaps not enough examination of Nell's background and thoughts, overall the film is unusual and fascinating.

It's Got: A well-deserved Oscar nomination for Jodie Foster.

It Needs: To look more deeply at Nells life and motivations, and at the journey the doctors take as they learn to communicate with her.

DVD Extras Just a theatrical trailer with this basic single-disc release. DVD Extras Rating: 1/10


This touching and charming drama is largely a vehicle for Jodie Foster, who doesn't disappoint.