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The Spotlight Effect
The Spotlight Effect-0.jpg

Directed by

Martin Scorsese

Produced by

Barbara De Fine
Irwin Winkler
Joe McFarland
Riza Aziz

Screenplay by

Martin Scorsese

Narrated by

Bonnie Wright


Bonnie Wright
Tim Roth
Madison Lee
Claire Foy
Julianne Moore
Jeremy Irons
Helena Bonham Carter
Robbie Kay
Robert Downey Jr.
Tilda Swinton
Tom Holland
Jonas Armstrong

Music by

Kathryn Kluge


Rodrigo Prieto

Edited by

Thelma Schoomaker


Red Granite Pictures
Appian Way Productions

Running time

147 minutes






Jessie J - Who You Are

Title song used in the trailer

The Spotlight Effect is a 2018 British-American coming-of-age drama film written, produced and directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Bonnie Wright, Tim Roth, Madison Wolfe and Claire Foy. It is a film about a prodigal young actress who stars as a major antagonist in a critically acclaimed science-fiction TV series, and who comes under immense scrutiny and a fearsomely difficult situation, becoming torn between her dedication to her family and her dedication to her work as an actress. Madison Wolfe stars as her sister, and Tim Roth as the director Jason Finnegan. It also co-stars Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons, Mark Strong, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Kay, Robert Downey Jr., Tilda Swinton, Tom Holland, Jonas Armstrong and Harry Lloyd.

Scorsese approached several actresses to play the title role, but settled on Wright eventually, and afterwards began production for the film in January 2018. It was released in June that year in US and UK theatres, and received overwhelmingly positive reviews, making several top ten lists. While it drew controversy for its slightly negative portrayal of the life of young actors and actresses, it received acclaim for its direction and the performance of Bonnie Wright and Tim Roth. It was a box office success, grossing $378 million on a budget of $96 million. Several actors made cameos as themselves in the film, voluntarily, and there was a particular role taken by Jack Gleeson that Scorsese improvised into the script and discussed with Wright and Gleeson themselves.


The film opens with a comic-con in Cardiff, where Evie Howard is invited as an interview guest for her globally famous role in Heaven's Call, a science-fiction television series of which she is one of the major villainous characters Amara. At a comic-con interview, she is visited by a young girl who asks for a photograph with her and she accepts. However, seconds after the photograph is taken, a fan breaks through the crowd and attacks her, punching her repeatedly for 'killing my idol', until she defends herself and slams his head against a table, knocking him out and causing a massive scene at the convention. The entire incident is in the newspapers the next day and Evie receives an email from her mother Georgina, who runs the newspapers for their town - Georgina insists that Evie come home.

Four years previously, Evie is acting as Lady Macbeth in a high school production of Macbeth, which is watched by a visiting Jean Finnegan, who becomes vastly impressed by her performance. She contacts him with her husband, Jason, who is revealed to be a world-famous film director. He expresses interest in including her in his upcoming TV series, and she becomes critically excited at the opportunity, a joy which her sister Christine joins her in. Georgina, however, is more pragmatic about their situation since she is a recent divorcee who took custody of her daughters and is struggling as it is with their rent. Evie persuades her mother that the money they could get if the show became big would erase their problems, but in secret she fantasises about her future in the film industry. She meets with Jason, who is initially extremely critical of her personality and almost puts her off, until he reveals that he wants her to work on her character with him in the series.

She begins to work on the series with Jason, and the two of them quickly become friends and she gets to know many other of the cast. She notices that Jason is a smoker, which bothers her greatly because of her mother's insistence against cigarettes. Evie triumphs in the pilot episode, in which she is introduced as a protagonist character and she becomes convinced that she is the hero of the series, and over several weeks she works on twelve episodes of the series, playing it as if she is the heroine. During her time she recognises Sir James Reeves, a film critic, and her childhood idol Cliff K. Robertson, both of whom become impressed with her devotion. However, when Evie reads the script for the finale of season one, the script details that she will become the antagonist of the show. She feels deceived by this, but Jason assures her that the only reason he didn't tell her was because she would play her heroine role so effectively it would be a shock to viewers when her character's alignment changes.

The family moves house as a result of the pay that Evie receives for the role and, over the next two years of the show's existence, she becomes very famous. She gets stopped in the streets by complete strangers so that they can have selfies with her. Evie is initially embarrassed by this, but becomes more comfortable with it. Jason stays aloof to her as the series increases in popularity and his direction becomes more erratic, and Evie notices that he is fighting with his wife. Christine sneaks on set one day to watch her, and she is discovered by Cliff, who almost throws her out until Evie convinces him that she is there by invitation. She persuades Jason to let Christine watch them on the condition she doesn't tell anyone about what happens in the episode that they are filming. Backstage, she suffers a blinding migraine and collapses, and when she is checked her doctor tells her that she has high blood pressure and that the extreme physical strain she undergoes during the filming has taken a toll on her. She stresses over this because she has grown to love being an actress in the series.

After a week, she continues and during an interrogation sequence in one episode she becomes so immersed in the scene that, when her character slams her hand on a table, she accidentally leaves a long scar on her arm from rebounding shards of a glass she smashed. She continues, even though several of the production team insist she walk off to be stitched. James witnesses this and criticises Jason's direction as apathetic for not noticing the risks that could come with a young person leaving a scar like that untreated. Jason argues on-set with James, until Jean breaks them up. Evie leaves to have the scar seen to, and is encountered by her mother, who tells her that she has just found out Evie's father has died. It comes as no surprise to Georgina when her daughter doesn't react, but Christine does react in tears. Evie tries to lose herself in rehearsals until Jean persuades her to take the day off to attend her father. At his funeral, Evie leaves early because she wants to continue working on the next episode, which horrifies Georgina.

The tension between Georgina and Evie increases after the latter reveals that she's going to Scotland to continue filming, and Christine wants to go with her. Georgina keeps Christine by her side and allows Evie to go. On the journey, Evie meets Michael Horowitz, who is revealed to be an upcoming character in the series. After realising that there is to be another main character, Evie knows that Jason is about to remove another character, as was a formula for the series. Upon reading the script, Evie learns that she will have a final confrontation with the hero, 'Rience', and she establishes with Michael on Jason's habit for keeping secrets from the cast so that they can utilise their surprise when it actually happened on screen. Evie becomes neurotic on her removal from the show, but she does not tell this to Jason. However, when a further edition of the script is given, it is revealed that it is Rience who will be removed, and Amara who will kill him. While filming the scene, Evie becomes confrontational and considers accusing Jason of pressuring the cast, but she procrastinates.

Georgina visits her in her hotel and reveals that Christine has begun to suffer lung cancer, after being diagnosed by a doctor. She doesn't know that she has the cancer, and Georgina doesn't want Evie to reveal this to her. However, she is shaken violently by the news and it affects her performance the next day, which Jason is quick to criticise. He continuously pressures Evie to tell him what is going on with her, but she is too stubborn to tell him. She becomes tearful in her bedroom several times, which is noticed by both Sir James and by Will Reese, the latter of whom confronts her about it. Evie isolates herself with the news, even from Christine herself, and has several drinks with Michael where she finally hints that there is something wrong with her sister. However, they are overheard by James, who writes an excerpt in the newspaper about it, which enrages Evie. Evie is compelled to attack the reporter for what he has done to her sister, but Jason tells her not to. Christine finally learns about her disease, and the realisation overpowers her into desiring the comfort of her mother more than the company of her sister, which upsets Evie. Evie finds further comfort in Michael and Will, the former of whom makes romantic advances towards her.

The series comes to the scene where Amara kills Rience, and during the intense confrontation that is written between them, Evie and Will extend the conversation much longer than they were supposed to, until finally it comes to the scene where Will's character is killed by Evie, where it is so intense that Will instinctively defends himself by punching Evie in the neck. While Evie recovers, Sir James writes a glowing draft of a review for the series. Evie becomes even more confident, starting to demand further screen time to improvise herself in further episodes, which Jason angrily refuses. Jason accuses the girl of trying to cloak her insecurities and secrets by prioritising herself over the rest of the cast; Evie realises that the secret of her sister's cancer has got out, and turns on Jason, ranting brutally on him in spite of attempts to calm her down. When Jason finally dismisses her from the set, Evie calls him a miserly old bastard, which provokes Jason to throw a camera at her. Evie cowers while Jason pursues her across the film set, grabbing her and shaking her violently, prompting her to punch him in the stomach and then headbutt him, bloodying his nose. In the ensuing grapple, Evie gains the upper hand and tries to claw Jason's face off, before Cliff knocks her out.

In the aftermath of the fight, Evie nurses the claw marks that she has received during the struggle and it is learned that Georgina has decided to sue Jason for pressuring, harassing and finally attacking her daughter. However, this completely backfires and Evie and Jason face severe media backlash for the fight, where Evie is harassed by reporters who want to know about her mood swings. This doesn't help when Evie desperately seeks proper consolation and seduces Michael, where they make out in his bedroom. At the climax of their encounter, however, paparazzi photographers take photos of the two of them having sex and it is released to phenomenal attention on the internet. Evie is interpreted as a seductress who takes out her frustration on men either violently or sexually. Evie actually sneaks herself into her own home that night, hiding from the media and from her own neighbours, and is shamed by her mother. Jason is the only one not to contact her on the matter, which is the only positive factor that Evie gleans from the situation.

Evie is surprised to be visited by Jack Gleeson, who was universally famous and hated for playing the character of Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones; Jack sympathises with Evie, who realises that she has it easy because Jack receives violent response from the public for simply playing the character of Joffrey. Jack tells Evie that he ought to reconcile with Jason for the sake of maintaining a career and a sense that she is accomplishing something, since she has no interest other than acting. He suggests that she prioritises something other than the show and the media, and afterwards joins her as she visits Christine, who has begun to come to terms with her cancer. Christine says that she wants her to reconcile with Jason, which Evie proves completely reluctant to do - however, Christine circumvents her sister's decision and personally contacts Jason, tricking the two of them to meet. Evie states that she wants to take a hiatus from acting and spend time with her family, to which Jason decides to climactically kill her character at the finale of the series. Evie consents to this and Amara is killed in the confrontation with Michael's character. The film progresses to the comic-con interview from the start of the film, where she is attacked by the fan for killing Michael's character. At the exact same time, Christine dies.

Evie is made completely silent by her sister's death, and cannot bring herself to talk to her mother, but she is amazed to see Jason, Jean, Cliff, Sir James, Hans, Ashley, Michael and Freddie appear for the funeral. Roxanne later visits Evie and tries to console her, before Georgina and Jason ward her off and try to comfort her themselves. Evie doesn't speak at all, but she insists to be left alone. She retraces several memories of her and Christine, before coming to the conclusion - by replaying her conversation with Jason where she doesn't reconcile with him and tries to find a situation where Christine lives. Realising that Christine would have died anyway, Evie hyperventilates, collapses and is found by Cliff, who brings her back to her mother. Evie, finally faced with the eventuality of speaking properly with Georgina for the first time since Christine died, laments that she didn't spend enough time with her, becoming selfishly focused on her part in Heaven's Call; Georgina doesn't deny her daughter's selfishness, but also Georgina's own inability to accept Evie's ambition. Jason announces his intention to discontinue the show due to the bad publicity, but to his surprise Evie persuades him otherwise. He offers to retake her as a cast member, but she denies, stating that she wants to pursue something other than the show.

One year later, Evie has worked alongside Peter Dinklage in several films directed by Tim Burton, and is using the money to properly support Georgina. She visits Christine's grave every week with Jason and Michael, and is a frequent guest on Freddie Janson's show. Privately, she writes a diary which she entitles The Spotlight Effect, judging that the girl she was when she started acting with Jason was a young, arrogant woman who could only see the spotlight and was actually blinded to what was happening all around her. A picture of her with Christine and Georgina is seen on her desk. The film ends panning on to that photo and with Evie narrating that she would rather spend a lifetime with her sister and mother than spend the precious hours in front of the camera becoming a TV star.


  • Bonnie Wright as Evelyn 'Evie' Howard, an extremely talented and immersive young actress who has become enamoured by the spotlight and struggles to balance her desire for success with her complex love for her family. Wright won the role in auditions that included options such as Chloe Grace Moretz, Georgie Henley and Evanna Lynch.
  • Tim Roth as Jason Finnegan, a widely acclaimed film director and writer who has turned to sci-fi television and who hires Evie as his favourite actress. Smart and sympathetic, he is more patient with Evie than the rest of the group - however, he is also intense, unpredictable and difficult, which causes tension between him and his cast. Jeremy Irons, Anthony Stewart Head, Anthony Hopkins and Kurt Russell were also considered for the part.
  • Madison Wolfe as Christine Howard, Evie's younger sister. She is the closest thing to a friend that Evie has truly ever had before the film, and she is the unintentional conduit of communication between Evie and her mother.
  • Julianne Moore as Jean Finnegan, Jason's wife who serves as a co-producer for Paradise Found. She suffered a gambling addiction which has strained her relationship with her husband, and she strikes up a friendship with Evie.
  • Claire Foy as Georgina Howard, Evie's mother and the head of a newspaper company.
  • J.K. Simmonds as Cliff K. Robertson, an extremely famous actor who serves as a supporting character in Heaven's Call. He is the idol of Evie and her sister, who have both adored him since they were children.
  • Jeremy Irons as Sir James Reeves, a film critic who once served as a film director until he was disgraced publicly in his heyday. He observes the production of the film and closely focuses on the straining nature of Jason Finnegan, whom he has a professional admiration for.
  • Mark Strong as Hans Kendell, the composer for the film's music, who is intensely devoted to his work.
  • Helena Bonham Carter as Ashley Kendrew, a paraplegic actress who serves as one of the characters in Heaven's Call.
  • Robbie Kay as Michael Horowitz, an actor who becomes the new main protagonist in Heaven's Call who starts a relationship with Evie.
  • Robert Downey Jr. as Freddie Janson, a news presenter who invites Evie and Michael on to his show to discuss the series.
  • Tilda Swinton as Drew Jackson, a co-presenter of Freddie's show.
  • Tom Holland as Will Reese, the actor who plays 'Rience'.
  • Jonas Armstrong, a cynical and narcissistic film critic who has opposed the concept of Heaven's Call, but has admired the performance of Evie in the show.
  • Harry Lloyd as William Dunkirk, a set designer for Heaven's Call.
  • Jack Gleeson as himself.
  • Tim Burton as himself.
  • Gary Oldman as himself.
  • Peter Dinklage as himself.
  • William Moseley as Larry, a guest star on Heaven's Call.
  • Sofia Vergara as Roxanne King, a disgraced actress who works as a reporter for the film and starts interviews with Jace.


The overall theme of the film is that people, especially young people, regardless of their position or predicament or efforts to escape such facts, are completely vulnerable one way or another - throughout the film, Evie tries to reach a certain height above her current one, and the majority of these efforts end badly for her in the end (for example, her encounter and employment by Jason greatly distances her from her family, and impacts regret upon her in the end). Jason is essentially the main antagonist of the film, but at the same time he is Evie's friend, creating the concept that enemies will reach a certain point where they understand each other. There is also a theme of reconciliation, which always softens or repairs damage - only after Christine's death does any true reconciliation take place. Evie herself represents self-destruction in this regard, which is catalysed by Jason and Georgina, but the very existence of Christine brings Evie's best qualities of compassion, decency and familial love. Scorsese stated that 'I always thought of it this way: Evie is one person, and she is caught in a tug of war between Georgina (her struggling, but loving mother whom she maintains a rocky relationship with) and Jason (her powerful but unpredictable ticket to the spotlight). When Christine comes along, Evie becomes more human and less impacted by the unwilling struggle between her mother and her boss; Christine is all that matters to her'.


Critical Reception

The Spotlight Effect received supremely positive reviews. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "Certified Fresh" score of 91%, based on reviews from 137 critics, with an average score of 8.4/10. The site's consensus states: "The Spotlight Effect is a violently enticing character study that is augmented by an unstoppable performance by the two lead performances". On Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 based on reviews from critics, the film has a score of 97 based on 46 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Matt Zoller Seitz of, who previously acclaimed Scorsese's Silence, gave the film four out of four stars, stating that, "Scorsese gives us a psychologically tense, but at the same time emotionally empowering story with a protagonist who teeters between selfishness and decency, and a powerful message about the invulnerability of chance and the misfortunes that are suffered by personal scandals. If you don't feel a tear in your eye by the end of this film, with that final shot, then check your damn pulse!" Richard Roeper awarded the film four out of four stars, saying, "The Spotlight Effect gives us one thing that we're always afraid of looking at - our own shortcomings. Evie loses her virtue, her self-respect, her sister, her potentially faultless career, and she's helpless to stop it - you feel for her, but at the same time you're not sure if you disagree with what happens...and then the end comes, and you finally exhale at the news of what our heroine has learned. Hats off to you, Scorsese!"

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who assigned it 3 stars out of four, wrote that The Spotlight Effect "threatens to give us an unlikable protagonist in a beautiful situation, and gives us all of the tension and all of the extravagance that could possibly be required". However, he criticised the ending, suggesting that "some people would come to the conclusion that nothing has changed", but he judged that Wright's narration made the ending very meaningful in certain ways. Peter Bradshaw, reviewing for The Guardian, described the film as "extravagant and striking", believing that the direction of the film deliberately showed off the extravagance of the situation. Bradshaw praised performances of the cast, including Tim Roth's "violent dedication" in his portrayal as Jason and the "fiery and determined" portrayal by Claire Foy, deciding that she was the most realistic portrayal of a mother possible in the film.

The performances of Tim Roth and Bonnie Wright, as well as their chemistry and the progression of their relationship, received major acclaim, with Jesse Cataldo of Slant surmising that "their relationship, from the first time he meets her at the start of the film, to the point where they are at each other's throats, their relationship is one of the more underlying elements of the film that makes it so compelling; Jason should have known, when he saw she was playing Lady Macbeth, that she could be the death of him". Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "Bonnie Wright is magnificent in this film - while Claire Foy is grounded, Tim Roth is powerful and Madison Wolfe is adorable, Wright benefits from her complex performance and the subtle combat between what she wants and what she ought to have". Film director Steven Spielberg highlighted the performance of Tim Roth and Claire Foy, stating that "they stand at opposite sides of Evie's conscience, and they are pulling so many strings to get what they want, but what truly hits home is the way in which Christine influences her sister's life - and it's not realised until the last act of the film, as to how important it is". Madison Wolfe received praise for her scenes when she realised she had cancer, which was dubbed as realistic by many who knew people to suffer the same disease.

J.K. Rowling praised the film on Facebook, stating that she was impressed by how extravagant the film was, when at the same time how personal it was. Ty Burr of The Boston Globe said, "The film takes its time bringing about the nature of its characters and the direction in which it is going, before bringing us instances of violence, tension and disarray which are so effective because they are so personal". However, he also noted that certain major actors weren't given major roles in the film, when their involvement in the film led to expectations that they would do. Philip Womack wrote a mixed review, judging that "While Scorsese creates a visually masterful piece of work, he takes too many risks in being derivative with the characters and the script - props to Roth, Wright and Wolfe for making us care about them, but still I couldn't help but expect the final shot of the film to go the way it did. It's that predictability that bothered me in this film - it didn't surprise me the same way that Scorsese's previous films did".

The Telegraph granted the film a maximum score of five stars, stating that it is "a coming-of-age film about a girl who's all grown up, but doesn't truly know it yet," comparing it with Scorsese's Hugo and Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, lauding Roth's performance as well as the film's score, direction and the fact that "Wright's narration of the film never bored me, which I consider impressive in itself". Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times thought the film was "uncontrollably sympathetic to watch" and that "the showdown between Bonnie and Tim was riveting to watch, and I was begging for their reconciliation afterwards". The Playlists Todd Gilchrist wrote "The ending had me in tears - Wright portrays the potentially abrupt ordinariness of her character's closing beautifully". Andrew O'Hehir of Salon writes "Tim Roth could win awards for his performance in this film based on facial expressions alone - he's such an intense actor in this film!", but at the same time he believed that Jeremy Irons was underused in this film, and that he could potentially have been an alternative casting choice for Tim Roth's character. This was an opinion that was shared by several other critics. Chris Stuckmann on his YouTube channel gave the film his maximum score of A+ and wrote "Ginny Weasley has come a long way since the Battle of Hogwarts - and Tim Roth is truly phenomenal in his intense, harrowing portrayal of a film director trying to make things work. However, Madison Wolfe shines in this film and makes her character far more significant and compelling than you would expect". The London Film Review gave the film a C and said "Scorsese's film is a symbol of how beautiful screenplay and entrancing music are a transparent cloak for harrowing performances and a message of how fate could always play against desire, which Wright's character is a personification of".



  • Even though at least three other actresses were considered, this film was ultimately written with Bonnie Wright in mind.
  • This film was rated R for infrequent sexual content, constant strong language, explosive mature violence and brief but graphic nudity.
  • Scorsese announced in an interview that, before he considered any other actor for the character of Jason, he believed that the ideal choice would have been Tim Pigott-Smith, whom he considered the ultimate choice originally for the role - however, Tim Pigott-Smith died in April 2017 before he could be a part of the film.
  • The showdown scene was completely improvisational between Tim Roth and Bonnie Wright, as was most of the violence that took place at the climax of that scene.
  • Bonnie Wright invited Harry Potter co-star Emma Watson and Tom Felton to the film - Watson almost cried at the end of the film.
  • It was ironic that Kurt Russel was considered for the role that Tim Roth won, since the two of them co-starred in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.
  • Jack Gleeson's cameo in the film was written in the presence of Gleeson and Wright themselves, since they wanted to help create a scene that stood apart from the violent confrontation scene that previously took place.
  • The ad-libbed scene by Evie in the film was inspired by a similar scene by Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie, in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained - Scorsese discussed permission to write such a scene with Tarantio himself.