Sebastian Lelio’s latest film The Wonder has landed on Netflix with a bang, starring Florence Pugh as an English nurse who’s invited to the Irish Midlands in 1862 to observe what appears to be a miracle.


A young girl, Anna O’Donnell, claims to have not eaten any food for four months and yet appears healthy. Her parents and many of the all-town committee believe it’s a religious miracle, but Lib, a hard believer in medical facts, suspects trickery.

What follows is a gripping thriller as faith clashes with reason, and religion with science.

But is The Wonder a work of fiction or is it inspired by a true story? Read on for everything you need to know.

Is The Wonder on Netflix based on a true story?

Toby Jones as Dr. McBrearty, Dermot Crowley as Sir Otway, Ciarán Hinds as Father Thaddeus in The Wonder Aidan Monaghan/Netflix

The Wonder is based on Room author Emma Donoghue’s 2016 novel of the same name, which in turn was inspired by a disturbing historical phenomenon: real-life cases of 'fasting girls' reported in the Victorian era - women, often prepubescent, who claimed to survive without food for months and even years.

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However, Donoghue didn’t focus on any particular case, and instead invented a story that had everything in it that she wanted to explore about the historical phenomenon: the clash between faith and reason, religion and science, and the theme of our relationship to our bodies.

Talking about why she thinks the story is relevant to a modern audience, Donoghue - who adapted her novel for the big screen alongside Alice Birch (Normal People) and Lelio - told in an exclusive interview: "I think it’s interesting that it’s about a girl that claims not to eat.

"Because it’s not exactly the same as modern stories of eating disorders, but it touches on an issue which comes up all the time today, you know our relationships to our own bodies, and it’s crucial that there are so many scenes that made it to the final cut of Florence eating."

She continued: "She’s a great eater. She’s an enthusiastic eater. And rather than any talk of, 'Oh it’s important, to eat it’s important to see her tucking into those bowls of food and choosing life over and over' – that’s a lovely thing and one subtle message in the film, I think."

How does the film differ from the novel? The Wonder book changes explained

Florence Pugh as Lib Wright in The Wonder
Florence Pugh as Lib Wright in The Wonder Aidan Monaghan/Netflix

The Wonder is a faithful adaptation of the novel, but Donoghue did make some minor changes when adapting the book for the big screen.

Talking to, Donoghue explained: “I knew that landscape would take on a powerful quality in this film that I wouldn’t say was particularly true of either Room or of the book of The Wonder."

She added: "I knew it would become visual in a new way and that landscape had to help us tell that story. I also knew it couldn’t be as wordy as the book."

She continued: “The book is literally about someone whose job it is to take notes - she writes things, she reads things. She’s got a constant internal monologue and I didn’t want the film to be wordy in the same way.

"So my first job was to tell the story again with far less wordiness and in particular find ways to have the religious aspects of the story come across to things like the holy cards, to find ways to not let it get bogged down in religion, and theological explanation."

The film does make a couple of other changes to its source material to increase the intensity, namely fast-tracking Lib's romance with journalist Will Byrne (Tom Burke), which is teased for pages and pages in the novel.

The Wonder’s cinematic framing device, which exposes the film’s artifice and asks important questions about storytelling, also marks a departure from the novel.

The Wonder is available to watch now on Netflix. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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