Angelique’s Isle is based on the true story of Angelique Mott, a 17-year-old Anishinaabe woman whom, along with her French-Canadian husband Charlie, gets marooned on a desolate island in Lake Superior after an expedition during the copper rush in the mid 1840s.
Directed by Marie Hélène Cousineau and Michelle Derosier, the film is distinctly Canadian, featuring harsh yet gorgeous landscapes, Québécois accents, lots of snow, and the always brilliant Tantoo Cardinal.
Julia Jones turns in a strong performance as Angelique Mott. It is at times quietly heartbreaking, and at times empowering and inspiring. She imbues her character with heart and a determination that I believe anyone can be humbled by. Charlie Carrick as Angelique’s husband Charlie was hit and miss; there were elements of his performance that I was very impressed by, and he had some moments that I absolutely didn’t buy. The remainder of the cast did very little for me, particularly Aden Young who functions as the film’s antagonist Cyrus. I didn’t find him intimidating in the least, in fact, I found his character almost cartoony. Having written that, I don’t blame the actor, I feel like his role was written poorly. Fortunately, the majority of the film focuses on the Motts and their 10 months stranded on this island, and Jones specifically is up to the task of carrying the movie.
There are aspects of Angelique’s Isle that look incredibly cheap, particularly the costumes. They feel as though they were rented from the local costume shop. Indeed, the entire film comes across as a feature-length “A Part of Our Heritage” commercial. To be fair, I always enjoyed those spots – they highlighted some important moments in Canadian history (as does this film) – but they never looked particularly cinematic.
Because this story is, as Canadians, a part of our heritage, I hate that I’m giving it a more negative review. I truly wanted to love it. But on top of the bad costumes, cheap feel, and not so great side characters, the film veers off into some very cheesy territory. There are a number of flashback sequences that feel wholly shoehorned in. They don’t add much and they are completely out of place. We learn that Angelique was forced into Christianity as a young girl, and that now she accepts that religion, but the idea is never explored in any meaningful way. We see her dreaming about her girlhood priest – a man who was cruel and rejected her First Nations heritage – but it doesn’t amount to anything or inform the character in any major way.
Further, the film delves pretty heavily into Angelique’s spirituality with the character occasionally communing with her grandmother (the aforementioned Tantoo Cardinal) in some metaphysical way. I’ve nothing against ideas of spirituality, but the way it’s presented here comes across as rather hokey.
The score by Darren Fung is quite strong, though it is used sparingly to complement the isolation the lead characters are experiencing. There are moments that evoke The Band’s Acadian Driftwood (some of the best Canadiana in music prior to The Hip), and it works beautifully.
Angelique’s Isle isn’t a terrible movie, but it isn’t a great one either. For an empowering survival story it indulges too much in strange fantasy elements that add up to nothing, and is dampened by a mediocre secondary cast and a screenplay that could have benefited from another pass.