In his four films to date, Reading-born director Peter Strickland has been to Hungary for Katalin Varga (2009), Italy for Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and a continental neverland for The Duke of Burgundy (2014). Now, he returns home for the first time to set In Fabric in Thames-Valley-on-Thames, a parodic variation on his home town that serves as the perfect time-warp setting for a dark consumerist satire that feels as though Dario Argento and David Lynch had been so smitten with Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread (2017) that they decided to piece together a giallo-inflected chiller from off-cuts from William Wyler's Jezebel (1938), Julien Duvivier's Tales of Manhattan (1942) and Jack Clayton's unsettling take on Nikolai Gogol's The Bespoke Overcoat (1955). 

Fortysomething divorcée Sheila Woolchapel (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) works at Waingel's Wavelength Bank in a time of landlines, cash transactions and lonelyhearts columns in the back of the local newspaper. Struggling to get a civil word out of aspiring artist son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh) and his new girlfriend, Gwen (Gwendoline Christie), Sheila spots a TV commercial for the Dentley & Soper department store, just as she is contemplating buying a new dress to start dating again. The sound of Gwen's noisy orgasm, heard while snooping through a crack in Vince's bedroom door, convinces Sheila to respond to an ad placed by Adonis Jackson (Anthony Adjekum) and allow sales assistant Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) to talk her into purchasing an `Ambassadorial Function' dress in artery red, with a black insect embroidered on the waist and the legend `You who wear me will know me' hidden in the hem.

There's something Mitteleuropeanly eerie about Miss Luckmoore's gnomic sales patter and time seems to stand still as she asks Sheila for her name, address and telephone number, while waiting for the pneumatic tube to provide her change. But the way in which she dictates the details to an unseen scribe after Sheila has returned to work feels even more unnerving, as though she has been marked out in some mysterious way. As Luckmoore removes her wig and crouches in the dumb waiter to descend into the bowels of the store, Sheila dresses for her rendezvous with Adonis in a Greek restaurant. He proves boorishly monosyllabic and Sheila's dour time is exacerbated by the discover that the dress has brought out a rash on her chest. 

Gwen and Vince notice the rash while playing a board game, in which the former delights in defeating Sheila, who has made it clear to her teenage son that she disapproves of the much older Gwen turning her home into a bordello and trying on the red dress without permission. However, they are interrupted when the washing machine goes into a violent spin cycle and Sheila gets a nasty cut in her arm in a bid to stop the appliance from coming apart at the seams. Meanwhile, Dentley & Soper boss, Mr Lundy  (Richard Bremmer), masturbates furiously, as Luckmoore and Miss Lullworth (Susanna Cappellaro) festishistically wash one of the store mannequins (which comes complete with luxuriant pubic hair) and Luckmoore smears her bright red lipstick in response to the old voyeur's seedy pleasure.

The next day, bank managers Stash (Julian Barratt) and Clive (Steve Oram) give Sheila a series of reprimands about the quality of her handshake and the duration of her bathroom breaks. They also provide the name of a reliable washing machine repair man. During her lunch break, she returns an item to Dentley & Soper and is dismayed to learn that Jill Woodmere (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who modelled the dress for the store catalogue, was killed on a zebra crossing shortly after the shoot. Luckmoore tries to be reassuring, but tears out the page and secretes the folded paper in an intimate place to prevent anyone else from seeing it. 

Shuddering at the discovery that Gwen wears underwear bearing Vince's face, while he makes peculiarly erotic drawings of her, Sheila arranges a date with Zach (Barry Adamson). He happens to be a customer at the bank and recalls Sheila sending him a stern note about an overdraft. They get on well and go dancing, while Gwen has a nightmare about being attacked by the dress during an S&M session with Vince. 

Back at the store, Lundy and Luckmoore put on a show of obeisance for the customers waiting at the door for the start of the Dentley & Soper sale, But Sheila is not among them, as she invites Zach over for a stir fry and they wind up in bed after he coaxes her into putting on the red dress. As they sleep, the garment slips under the door and billows above the stairwell. However, it gets torn the next day when Sheila is attacked by a dog while walking with Zach and she is astonished when Vince informs her that there isn't a mark on it when he finds it in a carrier bag. 

That night, the dress causes a scraping noise, as it swishes its coat hangar along the rail inside the wardrobe (as Luckmoore does a series of abrupt gyrations in the shop storeroom). Having reached the end of her tether, Sheila attempts to return the gown, but can't find the receipt and she is so frustrated by the cryptic utterances of Luckmoore and Lundy that she storms out and returns to work. Stash and Clive summon her to their office, where they chide her for waving informally to the mistress of the bank's owner. They ask if she is taking drugs and she reassures them that she has only been having the odd sleepless night because of nightmares like the one involving a dress her mother had worn in the grave, which mysteriously reappeared and gave off such a stench of death that is caused a bus driver to go over a cliff. 

Deciding to give the dress to a charity shop, Sheila drives along an unlit country road to spend the night with Zach. She is distracted by the sight of a naked Dentley & Soper mannequin in the trees and crashes on swerving to avoid another standing in her path. As she crawls from the wreckage, Sheila sees the dress that had been locked in a suitcase on the backseat float into the bare branches of a tree before landing on the tarmac, as the screen fades to black.

While one charity shop customer has a narrow miss, Bananas Brian (Terry Bird) randomly grabs the red dress and forces washing machine repair man Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) to wear it during his stag night. When he wakes the next morning, fiancée Babs (Hayley Squires) spots a rash on his chest, which he puts down to the after-effects of lots of beer and a dodgy kebab. Hauling himself out of bed, Reg goes on his rounds and tries to blind Pam (Caroline Catz) with technical jargon when she starts asking awkward questions about his upcoming nuptials and his undying faithfulness to Babs. She finds the dress and tries it on and is puzzled how it fits her perfectly when she is much smaller than Reg. 

Babs also develops a rash, which she notices while trying on a blue dress at Dentley & Soper, where Reg barely looks up from his magazine as Lundy puts a shoplifter in a neck hold. Walking past a window display of stockinged legs, however, he does have a flashback to a childhood brush with an older woman helping him try on a jerkin. But this is entirely forgotten when the couple return home to find the dress in a puddle of red liquid in front of the open washing machine. While Reg attempts to repair the damage, Babs's eyes glaze over as he gives a droning commentary and we see the dress fluttering ominously on the washing line. 

With Christmas passing and the wedding day approaching, Babs keeps fretting about the music for the night do. But Reg has more to worry about, as he is fired for fixing his own washing machine and his boss, Cottrell (Graham Martin), chews up and swallows his ID card in menacing silence. He doesn't tell Babs about losing his job, as she is upset because her canary has died after the dress covered its cage during the night. 

Instead, he goes to the bank to ask Stash and Clive for a loan and they remember him fixing their washing machine and ask him to repeat the spiel he had given them, as they had found it oddly arousing. Unable to focus, Reg gives a stuttering rendition and Stash encourages him to share any problems he might be having. He relates a dream he had about Babs delivering a baby daughter in a red dress and how disappointed he had been when the newborn had flipped him the finger. In order to shake the memory, he gives his patter another try and Clive and Stash hold hands with rolling eyes, as they listen fervently. 

Having checked the pilot light on the faulty boiler, Babs goes shopping and Luckmoore notices she is wearing the red dress when she pops into Dentley & Soper. She tries to make her leave by explaining that they have a strict dress code. But Babs has worked in retail and knows her rights and reminds Luckmoore that the customer is always right. While Reg watches a Dentley & Soper commercial (as the boiler begins to overheat), Babs tells Luckmoore about a dream she had about being a model in the store catalogue, whose weight kept fluctuating in one of the images. After she had died, the catalogue pages were cut into pieces and placed in a trunk similar to the coffin in which Babs was buried in the dress department. 

Stifling a yawn, Luckmoore shows Babs to an empty changing cubicle and she fails to notice, as the red dress slides under the door. At the counter, two customers get into a fight about who was at the front of the queue and Luckmoore is powerless to stop the fracas descending into chaos, as other patrons start looting the premises. As Reg succumbs to carbon monoxide poisoning, the dress lands on an electric bar fire and begins a blaze. The thieving customers dart towards the exits, as the tannoy warning becomes increasingly hysterical. But, while Babs is locked in her changing-room (or `transformation sphere'), Luckmoore manages to salvage the top half of her favourite mannequin and crawl into the dumb waiter. She looks out, as the elevator descends and sees Jill the model, Sheila, Reg and Babs all sitting at sewing machines making red dresses. 

Closing with a shot of an investigator finding the undamaged dress in the charred shell of the shop, this is a film that also rather peters out after initially burning brightly. Despite the best efforts of Haley Squires and Leo Bill, the second storyline fails to hold the attention after the gripping excellence of the Marianne Jean-Baptiste episode. There's no doubt that the quirky antics of Fatma Mohamed and Julian Barratt and Steve Oram lose their novelty value as the action continues. But it's the lack of idiosyncratic supporting characters on a par with Gwendoline Christie's kinky vamp that leaves the second segment feeling a little threadbare. 

Opting not to dwell on the dress's provenance or the rationale behind its baleful powers, Strickland tells his tales with the stylised archness that has become his trademark. He is ably abetted by production designer Paki Smith, costumier Jo Thompson and cinematographer Ari Wegner in creating the contrasting sites across Thames-Valley-on-Thames. But much also depends on the sinuous editing of Mátyás Fekete, Martin Pavey's babbling sound and a synthesizer score by Tim Gane, Joe Dilworth and Holger Zapf of Cavern of Anti-Matter that takes its cues from the bespoke soundtracks tailored by Goblin for Dario Argento. The influence of executive producer Ben Wheatley can also be detected on the sometimes sluggishly Kafkaesque proceedings. But, for all its visual elegance, thematic acuity and tongue-in-cheek panache, this always feels more off the peg than off the hook and, thus, never quite validates one's paradigm of consumerism.

There's a long tradition of directors remaking their own films that dates back to cinema's first flickerings. Around the turn of the last century, technology and techniques were forever being refined and film-makers couldn't resist upgrading hit titles to squeeze a few more bucks out of them. Among the first to revisit past glories in Hollywood was Cecil B. DeMille, who followed a 1918 reworking of his 1914 melodrama, The Squaw Man, with a 1931 talkie version. In 1938, Abel Gance also added sound to his 1919 pacifist tract, J'Accuse, while John Ford spruced up Marked Men (1919) as Three Godfathers (1948). He would also remake Judge Priest (1934) as The Sun Shines Bright (1953), while rival Howard Hawks would not only turn Ball of Fire (1941) into A Song is Born (1948), but he also rejigged Rio Bravo (1959) as El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970).

Among the other major names to indulge in a little retooling are Frank Capra (Lady For a Day, 1933) & Pocketful of Miracles, 1961), Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934/1956), Yasujiro Ozu (A Story of Floating Weeds, 1934 & Floating Weeds, 1959), William Wyler (These Three, 1936 & The Children's Hour, 1961), Leo McCarey (Love Affair, 1939 & An Affair to Remember, 1957), and Raoul Walsh (High Sierra, 1941 & Colorado Territory, 1949), Alan Clarke (Scum, 1977/1979), and Michael Mann (LA Takedown, 1989) & Heat, 1995). 

The latter is one of the few remakes that has been universally hailed as superior to its predecessor, with the conversion rate perhaps being understandably lower in the case of second language remakes like those by Roger Vadim (And God Created Woman, 1956/1988), Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch, 1994/1997), George Sluizer (The Vanishing, 1988/1993), John Woo (Once a Thief, 1991/1996), Michael Haneke (Funny Games, 1997/2007), Danny and Oxide Pang (Bangkok Dangerous, 1999/2008), Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on: The Grudge, 2002 & The Grudge, 2004), Gela Babluani (13 Tzameti, 2005 & 13, 2010), Erik Van Looy (The Loft, 2008/2014), and Ken Scott (Starbuck, 2011 & Delivery Man, 2013). 

In 2013, this column suggested that Hollywood actresses would be begging their agents to get hold of the rights to Chilean Sebastián Lelio's Gloria, which had earned Paulina García the Best Actress prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Well, Julianne Moore clearly prevailed in the bidding war and she persuaded Lelio to return to the director's chair for their American variation, Gloria Bell, which is so deftly different from the original that it stands up to comparison and deserves to be hailed as a disarming charmer in its own right. 

Bespectacled divorcée Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) lives in Los Angeles and works in insurance. She tries to keep in touch with her children, Peter (Michael Sera), and Anne (Caren Pistorius), as well as her own mother, Hillary (Holland Taylor). When not working, Gloria likes to hit the dance floor at retro discos and invariably gets home to discover that a hairless Sphinx cat has managed to find its way into her living room. Her upstairs neighbour is the landlady's son and appears to be having some sort of breakdown, as does Gloria's workmate, Melinda (Barbara Sukowa), who dreads losing the job on which she relies for income and self-esteem. 

One night at the disco, Gloria catches the eye of Arnold (John Turturro), who tries to make small talk at the bar. He asks if she is always so happy and she claims she's the same as everybody else. Arnold explains that he is trying new things, as he has only been divorced for a year. They dance together and tumble into bed, after Gloria removes the Velcro girdle that Arnold uses to hold in his tummy. She enjoys the experience, but is surprised when he invites her to lunch and questions how divorced he really is when he takes a call from his daughter during the meal. Apologising for being a soft touch where his girls are concerned, Arnold shows Gloria a photograph of how he looked before he had gastric band surgery. 

Forever, singing in her car, Gloria even hums along to Paul McCartney's `No More Lonely Nights' as she tweezers a hair from her chin. She returns to the disco with Arnold, who owns a paintball park and they kiss after he shows her around. She introduces him to her friend, Vicky (Rita Wilson), and her husband, Charlie (Chris Mulkey), and they chat about gun control, Arnold's career in the Marines and the end of days. Gloria hopes she goes down dancing and begins to enjoy having Arnold around for dates, discussions and leisurely moments of intimacy, especially when he reads her a romantic poem by Claudio Bertoni. But the moment is ruined by yet another phone call from his needy kids and Gloria is unconvinced when Arnold insists that he doesn't want to tell them about her because they are too emotionally immature to accept that he needs to move on with his life. 

Eager to have him involved in every aspect of her life, Gloria takes Arnold to Peter's birthday party. He is taking care of his infant son, Hugo, while his wife is out in the desert getting in touch with her inner self and he is not particularly enjoying the experience. Gloria introduces Arnold to her ex-husband of 12 years, Dustin (Brad Garrett), whom she hasn't seen since he married Fiona (Jeanne Tripplehorn). However, she puts her foot in it when she asks Anne about her pregnancy and Dustin is dismayed that his daughter is planning to move to Sweden with her surfer beau, Theo (Jesse Irwin). 

The mood lightens, as Fiona vapes dope and Peter plays some Bach on his electronic keyboard. As photographs are handed round, however, Arnold begins to feel uncomfortable and slips away without a word. Gloria makes excuses for him, but Peter is worried that she has saddled herself with an oddball. When he waits by her car at the office and tries to explain that he felt threatened by her easy relationship with Dustin, Gloria tells him to grow up and drives away. However, when someone sings Gilbert O'Sullivan's `Alone Again (Naturally)', Gloria mumbles the last word of the title with a mix of disappointment and hurt. 

A diagnosis of deteriorating sight and the need to take daily eyedrops also saps her spirits. Worse follows when Miranda is fired and Anne flies out to Sweden. So, Gloria seeks solace in a bag of drugs that someone had left on her doorstep by mistake. Arnold keeps phoning and she ignores the calls. But, while watching a dancing puppet skeleton in the street, a sense of how quickly time passes hits her and she picks up and agrees to take a trip to Las Vegas. No sooner have they arrived, however, than he gets news that his ex-wife, Suzanne, has walked through a plate glass door. He promises Gloria that he wants to stay with her. But, when she drops his phone in his soup when it keeps ringing over dinner, he does another disappearing act and Gloria parties hard with Jeremy (Sean Astin), a stranger she met in the casino. 

Waking next morning, with a missing shoe and her valuables missing, Gloria walks barefoot back to Caesar's Palace and uses the reception desk phone to call Hillary to come and collect her. She arrives home to find the cat waiting for her and it becomes her constant companion, as she ignores her landline before pulling the connection out of the wall. But she decides to act when she finds a bag of paintball guns in her boot and peppers Arnold and his house with red splotches. His ex-wife (Jennie Fahn) and daughters (Abby Gershuny and Lauren Brickman) rush out of the house to check he's okay and hurl abuse at Gloria as she drives away. However, she feels good as Bonnie Tyler's `Total Eclipse of the Heart' blares out of the car stereo. Having smoked a joint to compose herself, Gloria goes to the reception for Vicky's daughter's wedding and takes to the dance floor to bop along to Laura Branigan's `Gloria'. 

One of the problems of a transferring remake action to a new country is that the socio-political nuances that made the original so unique tend to fall through the cracks. This is clearly the case here, as while Lelio is forced to ditch the references to Chile in the post-Pinochet era, he and co-writer Alice Johnson Boher fail to replace them with commensurate insights into California under President Donald Trump. Indeed, there is virtually no political undercurrent to action that should be moiling with it, with the attempts to shift the emphasis on to the misogyny of a culture that considers women of a certain age to be less valuable than their male counterparts often feeling slightly tokenistic. 

Nevertheless, this is a fascinating film in the Douglas Sirk-cum-Rainer Werner Fassbinder tradition, particularly for those with fond memories of Gloria. There's little point in comparing Moore and García's performances, as they are both exceptional in their own ways. But, while Garcia had to scrap for what she gets, Moore brings a dignified elegance to her rite of bourgeois passage. Similarly, it's intriguing to note how Arnold is a much more vulnerable character than Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández) and it's much easier to forgive his inability to sever his ties with loved ones his world still revolves around. Of course, his pusillanimity and immature need to be the centre of attention are unappealing and Gloria has every right to expect greater commitment. But he would be far more reprehensible if he abandoned his daughters to pursue a new relationship. After all, Dustin is hardly a model father.

John Turturro excels at this kind of character and the looks he keeps shooting Moore during Michael Cera's birthday party go from desperate to intemperate, as she fails to provide the little smile of reassurance he needs to feel he has not been entirely excluded from the family circle. Such is the emphasis on Moore and Turturro that few of the supporting cast get much chance to shine, although the Sphinx cat is a real scene stealer. 

The songtrack is also memorable, although it's complemented by Matthew Herbert's score with a harmoniousness that extends to cinematographer Natasha Braier's lighting of Dan Bishop's production design and Stacey Battat's costumes. But, while he taps into the seedy grandeur of Vegas, Lelio seems less at home in LA than he did in the London of Disobedience. It will be interesting to see whether he will remain abroad for his next assignment or will return to the Santiago of A Fantastic Woman (both 2017), Either way, Lelio is now as vital a talent as compatriot Pablo Larrain, who serves as his co-producer. 

Having followed the documentaries A Summer at Abarbanel (2005) and Surrogate (2008) with her feature bow, Princess (2014), Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer makes her American debut with My Days of Mercy, a lesbian love story that also examines the debates around the death penalty. Scripted by Joe Barton - an emerging small-screen writer whose previous feature credits were Adam Randall's iBoy and David Bruckner's The Ritual (both 2017) - this doesn't always strike the right balance between advocacy and romance. But, if one can forgive the occasional cumbersome contrivance, this is a thoughtful and sincere attempt to approach a contentious issue from a new angle. 

Siblings Martha (Amy Seimetz), Lucy (Ellen Page) and Ben Moro (Charlie Shotwell) travel by camper van to the Kentucky Midlands Penitentiary at Eddyville to demonstrate against the imminent execution of a mentally disturbed man who shot an off-duty cop. While wandering around the camp site on the night before the lethal injection is administered, Lucy bumps into Mercy (Kate Mara), whose father was the dead cop's partner and is a leading figure in a group that supports capital punishment. They flirt over a cigarette and Lucy looks up Mercy online after they return home. 

She hopes to get a job in the local bar, but her situation is complicated by the fact that her father, Simon (Elias Koteas), has been on Death Row for the last eight years, in spite of the fact he insists that he didn't murder his wife. When news of his execution date comes through, lawyer Shane Weldon (Brian Geraghty) promises to do what he can to help, although Lucy has little respect for him because he is sleeping with Martha on a `pro-boning' basis. 

At the next protest, Lucy bumps into Mercy, who persuades her to slip away for a drink in a nearby bar. They establish the fact that neither has a boyfriend before Mercy cradles a tipsy Lucy when she recalls how Simon was arrested after a witness claimed to have seen him throwing a knife into a bush after her mother was stabbed. She wants to believe in his innocence and wishes they could afford a better lawyer, but they struggle to make ends meet and she fears he will be executed and that the family will fall apart with the cause to unite them.

When they take their places outside the prison the next day, Martha notices the glances they exchange and Lucy feels a thrill when Mercy gives her a hair tie as a parting gift. She goes to visit her father, who keeps hoping that justice will be served and is grateful for the news that Lucy brings him from home. While she is mooching around the kitchen, she gets a Skype call from Mercy and has to run upstairs and barricade herself in her bedroom to keep the laptop out of Ben's clutches. Middle-class and self-assured, Mercy does much of the talking and Lucy thanks her when she mentions she works for a law firm that might be able to help with Simon's case. However, she also teases her for doing her bit to oppose the death penalty. 

Martha thinks it would be better sticking with Shane, as time is running out and he is more familiar with the background. But Lucy has complete faith in Mercy and, when Ben falls ill on the weekend of their next protest, she drives off in the Winnebago to avoid having to babysit him. Initially unable to see Mercy at a raucous stand-off, Lucy walks across the divide to greet her with a hug and they slip off to spend the afternoon on a riverbank. When Lucy suggests that she stays the night, Martha gets twitchy and they end up having an argument about how Lucy might feel once Simon's sentence has been carried out. 

She collapses into bed and ignores her friend Agatha (Tonya Pinkins) when she knocks to check she's okay. But Mercy doesn't take no for an answer and insists on driving Lucy home. They patch things up en route and get the giggles when Lucy describes her unsuccessful dates with boys. Moreover, after Mercy insists they pull over so she can sing along to her favourite song on the radio, they tumble into bed and hold hands for the rest of the journey. However, Martha is less than impressed when she finds them in the front room, with Mercy asking Lucy about the day she came home to find her mother's body. Martha describes an intruder scenario that departs in several details from Lucy's responses to Mercy's questions and lets her sister no in no uncertain terms that she disapproves of her liaison.

Nevertheless, Lucy and Mercy sleep together and spend much of the next day gazing at each other on laptop screens. However, while Martha and Ben are out, Shane comes with news that a hair found at the crime scene has been found to belong to a known criminal and that Simon might well have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. But he is also worried about whether Martha will dump him when the case closes and Lucy has to reassure him that her sister is foolisly loyal, even though she freely admits that she can't stand him. 

The sense of optimism doesn't last long, however, as the suspect has an alibi and further tests reveal a spot of his wife's blood on Simon's shirt. Shane gets his face slapped when he suggests that the evidence is damning and Lucy blames Martha for convincing her of their father's innocence and making her believe in a dream. She drives from Ohio to Illinois to see Mercy, only to discover that she still lives with her parents and is dating her male boss. 

On their next visit to the penitentiary, Simon tries to talk Martha into getting back together with Shane in the hope that he will stay on the case. Lucy glares at him with contempt from across the tiny room and she is amazed when Martha suggests that they leave town and start a new life somewhere else. Ben asks to move beside the sea and they agree to relocate to California. By the time Mercy comes back to the house, therefore, the family has packed up and moved out - leaving the TV cabinet on top of the bloodstain they couldn't get out of the carpet.

Mercy waits at the gates for Lucy on the day of the execution and joins her and Martha in the viewing gallery, as Agatha keeps an eye on Ben. Black screens separate to reveal Simon strapped to a table with a drip in his arm. His daughters stand when they see the terror in his eyes and both sob, as he slips away. Outside, Lucy thanks Mercy for coming, while Martha tells Ben a little white lie that his father had shown remorse for what he had done. 

Six months later, Lucy has a job as a waitress. One day, she is surprised to see Mercy at the window. They meet up in the back alley for a cigarette and Mercy tries to apologise in telling Lucy that she has quit her job and broken up with her boyfriend. Despite hugging her, Lucy admits she thinks it will be hard to accept Mercy back into her life. But they agree to go out that evening and see where they end up. 

Nothing quite rings true about this well-intentioned drama, as the competence of the playing and direction keeps repeatedly being undermined by flaws in the writing. It's asking a lot to believe that nobody at the prison protests would have noticed or commented upon the burgeoning romance between women on such diametrically opposed sides of a hugely emotive debate. Furthermore, it seems highly unlikely that Mercy's family would not have known about their daughter's secret liaison, as her father is a cop and a prominent figure in the movement. But, while Barton is allowed a little leeway in shaping his love story, he can't be cut such slack when it comes to the forensic revelations that confirm Simon's guilt. What have the investigators been doing for the last eight years if they have only just managed to find a rogue hair and a telltale bloodstain on the prime suspect's shirt?

While such sloppiness strains the credibility of the entire legal plotline, the schematic happy ending also seems more than a little far fetched, as Mercy hires a private investigator to track down her lover, whose sense of betrayal simply melts away after the first tentative hug. Indeed, even Ellen Page and Kate Mara (who co-produced with the legendary Christine Vachon) seem a little unconvinced. But we shouldn't be too surprised by the speed of their reunion, as they fell in love at first sight and seem to base their entire relationship on physical attraction, as their conversations make it clear they have little else in common. Nevertheless, the pair commit to their roles, as does Amy Seimetz, whose long-suffering older sister has to life with her conscience after sleeping with Brian Geraghty in order to have legal advice on tap. 

Allying with production designer Maya Sigel and Polish cinematographer Radek Ladczuk capably to capture the look, if not the feel of the Midwest, Tali Shalom-Ezer directs steadily, although there's something unsettlingly twee about the decision to preface each protest with a top shot of the prisoner's last meal and a caption outlining their crime, location and mode of execution. But the execution sequence itself is handled with such discretion that its non-propagandising potency is redoubled and leaves a much more indelible impression than the melodramatics leading up to it.