It’s 1829, and Louisa is a convict trapped in a horrific, decrepit British prison in Van Dieman’s Land — the original name of the island of Tasmania, which was used as the primary penal colony in Australia.
Louisa is desperate for freedom and will do almost anything to get out of prison. A mysterious Mr. Black arrives to choose a servant for his household, but despite warnings from her fellow inmate, she puts herself forward, literally, to be chosen.
But life on his remote farm isn’t easy. Her new master is abrupt, strange and seems to harbor not-so-honorable intentions towards Louisa, and she’s at his mercy in such an isolated setting. Her only solace is befriending an orphaned lamb on the farm. But when she unearths some grim truths hidden in the darkness, she realizes that her desperate grab for freedom may be the path to danger.
Writer-director Heidi Lee Douglas’s gothic thriller reads both as a richly vivid evocation of a rarely captured historical milieu and a perilous, suspenseful dark fairy tale that bears a resemblance to the infamous tale of Blackbeard.
The beautifully textured cinematography is rich in shadows and grit, emphasizing the dank, damp filth of Louisa’s incarceration and the raw, primitive “nowhere’s land” that surrounds her on the farm. Viewers get a visceral understanding how just how difficult life was in this undeveloped place, from the dirt on the walls to the thickets of forest and woods that Louisa is pulled through with her ominous new master.
But the excellent writing and editing never forget its primary task to pull viewers along, weaving in tension and suspense as Louisa’s innate curiosity pulls her in deeper into Mr. Black’s thorny knot of mysteries. He secretly watches her while she bathes and comes close to attacking her sexually, but the real mystery seems to be his warnings to Louisa to keep out of certain areas on the farm.
Louisa, of course, can’t help but investigate, and a vibrant, wily performance by actress Georgia Lucy makes such curiosity and rebellion an essential component of Louisa’s vital pluck and resilience. Playing Louisa as a force of nature longing to break out into the larger world, Lucy brings an innate quality of fierceness and power to her characterization.
Performer James Grim plays against her as Mr. Black, and though he’s clearly sinister, there are hints of a complex, tormented nature to make him more than just a typical villain. When the two leads have it out in their final confrontation, the world, characters and story have been so fully constructed that the ending is terrifying, compelling and beautifully cathartic.
“Little Lamb” is both a chapter of distant history, and a terrifically executed thriller with dark, diabolical shadings. But it’s also a story about how the weak and seemingly helpless find the resources and strength to pull themselves out of darkness. Louisa is above all else a fighter, with a strong spirit and a will to survive. And by the film’s end, she will linger in the imagination with viewers wondering where she goes and what kind of life she’ll make for herself.