Films whose narrative rest on the affliction of multiple personality disorder seem to have a remarkably high success rate (Psycho, Dressed To Kill), and that trend continues with this slow-burning psychological drama which finally makes its way to UK shores.
We open in the peaceful setting of rural Nebraska. A woman, Emma Skillpa, makes her way leisurely to her bedroom, sits at a dressing table and slowly removes her wig and then her dress. Emma is actually the other personality for John Skillpa (Murphy), a mild-mannered bank employee who leads a quiet life in his small town. Solitude plays a major role in his life, interspersed with notes from Emma, reminding him of various chores around the house and to let him know his dinner is in the oven.
This nervous though functional relationship that John has between his two personalities is thrown into turmoil one morning when a train derails and comes hurtling into his garden, just as he’s hanging the washing in the guise of Emma. As the nearby townsfolk rush to Emma’s aide, they simply presume that John has been secretly married. This assumption doesn’t rest easy on John’s shoulders as Emma as never really had any exposure to the outside world. As the days go by though, and following several visitors inviting themselves into the Skillpa home when John is under the guise of his alter ego, Emma begins to gain some confidence in presenting herself to society.
Two external influences that seem to be encouraging Emma to become the more dominant force are the mayor’s wife (Sarandon) and Maggie (Page), a friend of John’s who becomes increasingly taken with Emma the more she gets to know her. A nagging criticism may be that despite Maggie and the fellow townsfolk getting to know both personalities, none seem curious as to the similarity of their appearance. It’s a criticism I’m happy to ignore, as the film itself is worthy enough to overlook such minutiae.
Peacock is very much Murphy’s film. The Irishman has successfully cherry-picked excellent indie films as far back as Disco Pigs in 2001, and some may see a distant similarity here to the excellent Breakfast on Pluto (2005). In Peacock, he carries the dual roles off with aplomb conveying superbly the tortured personality of John against the wide-eyed and hopeful innocence of Emma. Director Lander takes his time developing the story whilst giving us glimpses into John’s past. Some may grow impatient but I felt it was a well shot movie that let the viewer inside the bewildered mind of a scared and lonely individual.