Kristin Scott Thomas’s directorial debut, North Star, is inspired by her own experience losing her father and stepfather within a few years of each other when she was a little girl. Scott Thomas, who co-wrote the script with John Micklethwait, frames these losses as the core memories haunting Katherine (Scarlett Johansson), the eldest daughter of Diana Frost, who is, later in life, marrying for a third time. Her three grown daughters descend on her charming country home for the wedding, bringing all their problems with them. It’s the kind of “no one says what they mean until the end” character drama that has been the middle-brow bread and butter of British cinema for decades.


Scarlett Johansson is not the least bit believable as Katherine, a captain in the Royal Navy about to take command of an aircraft carrier, but this is the third time she’s played Scott Thomas’s daughter on screen, following The Horse Whisperer and The Other Boleyn Girl, so I imagine this casting is owed to a personal connection between Johansson and Scott Thomas. Better cast is Emily Beecham as Georgina, the youngest daughter who works as a nurse and not so secretly resents her elder sisters for their highly visible success. Best cast is Sienna Miller as Victoria, the middle daughter and a famous actress moving out of her wild child phase maybe a little late. Miller is a legit delight, and though the whole point of North Star is to mine the fallout of a family devastated twice in rapid succession by loss, it feels like there’s a better movie in here focused more solidly on Victoria.


The sisters each face their own problems, from Katherine struggling with a lifelong secret as well as a girlfriend ready to move onto the next phase of her life with or without Katherine (Freida Pinto, she’s great, but the part is very much “thankless wife/girlfriend” stuff), to Georgina engaging a private detective to find out once and for all if her lousy husband, Jeremy (Joshua McGuire), is cheating. In between is Victoria, entertaining an offer from a billionaire Frenchman to “take care of her”, but also poking at the embers of her childhood flame, a local boy called Tom (Mark Stanley). Though her problems are arguably the tritest of the bunch, once again Victoria’s storyline is the most compelling, mainly because of the strength of Miller’s performance and her palpable chemistry with Mark Stanley.

As a drama about a fractured family, North Star is moderately successful. ScarJo is miscast, but everyone else clicks along, and Scott Thomas manages her directorial duties with aplomb, if not any particular style. North Star feels very much like a film she would have starred in regardless of her personal connection to the story, but as a director, she isn’t doing much more than “standard drama”. On the one hand, at least she didn’t overcommit and take on something she couldn’t manage, on the other hand, North Star is incredibly forgettable, despite the harrowing emotional circumstances of a family losing two fathers in less than ten years. 


Around the fringes of North Star, though, is a funny enough comedy about the quirky characters who show up at a wedding. It echoes Scott Thomas’s own breakout film Four Weddings and a Funeral, but there are worse notes from which to crib. Comedian Sindhu Vee stars as Katherine’s pseudo-mother-in-law and is a genuine delight, the film is worse off when she vanishes halfway through. Our Flag Means Death’s Samson Kayo is also funny as the overeager private detective working for Georgina; one of the best bits in the film is when he tries to set a playlist for the video of Jeremy cheating.

These side characters feel like additives meant to make the drama go down smoother, and weddings are often magnets for both drama and comedy in real life. But while Scott Thomas’s direction is sturdy, if uninspired, her script is unbalanced. There’s not enough nuance between the two, and the dramatic story elements dominate the funny bits enough that it makes the comedy feel out of place, like footage spliced in from another film altogether. North Star isn’t a total loss, but it’s not memorable, nor is it doing anything interesting enough to distinguish Kristin Scott Thomas as a director. It’s not bad, but it’s not especially good, either. It’s too mediocre to be much of anything at all.

Attached - ScarJo at the launch of Outset at Nordstrom yesterday, and Frida Pinto in LA with a friend. 

This review was published during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes of 2023. The work being reviewed would not exist without the labor of writers and actors.