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Actober: 50 Major Child Performances 2/10

So onto part two of the bunch of kids shining bright in the movies. The following batch are not exactly nuisances per se, but boy oh boy there are some here that trouble follows. But, you know, starting fires, befriending killers, surviving tsunamis, evading a psychotic dad, is all part of childhood. A lot can happen in, say, 12 years. Right?

The Shining

Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance in The Shining (1980)

If you are asked to think of the first scene from The Shining, what one pops in your head? I am going to bet that it is most likely the scene of Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) riding his tricycle around the empty corridors until he comes across the Grady twins asking him to ”Come Play”. The character of Danny is our hero, a child who has an unique power but doesn’t know how to use it. Lloyd certainly looks the part of an innocent child, whose curiosity gets the better of him. With his blonde hair and Apollo knitted jumpers, the character of Danny Torrance is an all American kid of that era, and his appearance along with his naturalistic acting performance makes the viewer fully believe that this child is real.

Up until The Shining, Lloyd as never acted and would only go to act in one further TV movie before retiring. Lloyd’s performance is the exact opposite to his ‘father’ Jack Nicholson, who is wild, over-the-top and bonkers. Lloyd’s performance helps ground the film in some sort of reality, and he comes across as such an ordinary little boy, that the viewer can’t help but cheer when he outsmarts his father. Danny Lloyd really shines here, and is the real star of the film, perhaps because he wasn’t an actor but just a child. – – – – – Bianca Garner


Ellar Coltrane as Mason Evans Jr in Boyhood (2014)

Our first look at Ellar Coltrane is him as a young boy, staring up into the sky with not a care in the world, absorbing the moment he is in. The film ends with him as a young man, off with new friends, hiking at a state park in Texas, peering at a beautiful sunset, absorbing the moment he is in. Everything in between is a collection of 12 years worth of moments captured on film by writer-director Richard Linklater, from marriages and divorces, to baseball games and hiking with Mason Evans Sr (Ethan Hawke). Absorbing the everyday and the unusual, and allowing those moments to influence and inform the character and how to respond to the changing times around him.

The last time we’ve seen young actors grow up and mature into polished performers, was with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson and the Harry Potter film series. Except in this sense, those films were released 1-2 years apart. Linklater takes a huge gamble and filmed his character’s progression every year for about a few weeks each time. Despite running the risk of its main character perhaps choosing not wanting to act anymore down the line. The result is literally watching time itself flash before our very eyes, as we bear witness a child become a young man. I have no clue if we’ll see more of Mr. Coltrane, but if we don’t, this performance would still go down as one of the greatest performances ever by a young actor.. – – – – – Jonathan Holmes

Tom Holland

Tom Holland as Lucas Bennett in The Impossible (2012)

It’s rare that you see a film where a child is given such a prominent role in a narrative. Where, while there are adult actors gravitating around them (and in the case of this film, very good adult actors), they carry the emotional burden almost entirely by themselves. In The Impossible, we see Tom Holland in a role that is both physically and mentally demanding. After the legendarily devastating Boxing Day Tsunami that decimated Southeast Asia, he and his mother (played by Naomi Watts) are separated from the rest of their family, and then, once she is taken to hospital for treatment of her injuries, he is all on his own.

Not only within the film, but on screen. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young kid who, sure, carried an almost equally demanding role as the titular Billy in Billy Elliot on the West End. But up until this point he hadn’t had much film experience. Holland brings not only a tremendous amount of vulnerability to his role, but a maturity and a natural screen presence that would be impressive to find in an actor three times his age. – – – – – Audrey Fox

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman as Mathilda Lando in Léon: The Professional (1994)

The girl with the shiner, hiding a cigarette because she has enough problems without her dad finding out. In a matter of seconds, little Mathilda tells us she lives in a brutal adult world. Soon enough she declares she may as well be dead. Her saving grace is joyfully dashing off to the store to get the eponymous Léon two cartons of milk. Only to return to a freshly massacred family, including her four year-old brother. This is a phenomenal introduction to the marvelous Natalie Portman. A revelation here, Portman’s face pours with unimaginable, teary grief as she rings the assassin’s doorbell, praying he lets her in.

Bruised, battered, and no apparent place to go, Mathilda proves herself determined, domesticated, and a detrimental companion. The rapport she has with Léon is instantaneous, warming his social skills, while she latches onto a role model that she perhaps always dreamed of. Portman’s energy is astonishing, infectious, this is an acting performance to rival the greatest. Somehow transcending the status of her generation, Portman executes a damaged child, who still has the enthusiasm and spirit to give her life meaning, even in a dangerous world. Every ounce of the actress’ being is thrown into the role of Mathilda, this must still go down as one of Natalie Portman’s very best in a career of highs. – – – – – Robin Write

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore as Charlene “Charlie” McGee in Firestarter (1984)

In Firestarter, Drew Barrymore plays Charlie, the daughter of two test subjects who developed supernatural powers while taking part in a government experiment. Charlie has her own power, pyrokinesis, meaning she can pretty much cause anything to burst into flames just by looking at it. This obviously isn’t the ideal superpower for an emotionally unstable 8-year-old to have, particularly when she’s on the run from government agents who hope to control her power and use it as a weapon. Children with great and deadly powers at their disposal have been a mainstay in horror and science-fiction since John Windham published The Midwich Cuckoos in 1957.

While Firestarter plays on many of the same fears, the difference is that Charlie is effectively a victim and not an antagonist, despite the epic bodycount she is responsible for at the end of the film. Drew Barrymore’s performance is an essential part of this balancing act, because we have to sympathise with Charlie and be afraid of her at the same time. Barrymore achieves this by making us believe Charlie is genuinely distressed by not being able to control her powers and horrified at the results of her actions. It would have been so easy for the character to have been played black and white; monster and innocent. However, it is the subtle shades of doubt and distress Barrymore adds to the mix that really make this film work. – – – – – Chris Regan


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