Sally Hawkins only has one Oscar nomination to her name (Best Supporting Actress for “Blue Jasmine”), but that could very well change come early next year. The English actress is front and center in Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale “The Shape of Water,” and the unanimous raves out of the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival prove Hawkins could be a major contender in this year’s race for Best Actress.
Hawkins plays a mute custodial worker named Elisa, who works in a government laboratory during the Cold War and discovers an amphibious creature in a water tank. She forms a special relationship with the creature (played by Doug Jones) that blossoms into something magical and romantic. Critics have weighed in with nothing but raves for del Toro’s latest, and every review singles out Hawkins’ lead role as one of its biggest triumphs.
“Special credit must be given to Hawkins,” IndieWire’s Ben Croll writes in his A review. “Her role was no doubt a serious technical challenge, but you wouldn’t know it from seeing her onscreen.”
“Hawkins makes this film truly soar,” Marlow Stern of The Daily Beast says, “turning in a voiceless performance every bit as beguiling as her cheery prattler in ‘Happy-Go-Lucky.’ It is in her shimmering eyes and broad smile that we see a woman who finally feels heard; who is basking in the glow of acceptance found in the unlikeliest of places.”
“Happy-Go-Lucky” is considered Hawkins’ defining role and it brought her very close to nabbing an Oscar nomination. If her work in “The Shape of Water” is on par with her breakout, then she’ll easily find herself back in the Oscar conversation this year. Some reviewers are even calling Elisa her best performance ever.
“Elisa is, for any number of reasons, the kind of role that comes along just once a lifetime. Hawkins meets it with the performance of one,” Robbie Collin of The Telegraph writes. “The London-born actress’s keen observational eye, technical control and puckish comic touch have been evident in [her roles]…but here they’re wed to an emotional intensity and shivery eroticism that make you wriggle with delight.”
Wordless performances have had great success with Academy voters in the past: Marlee Matlin won Best Actress for “Children of a Lesser God”; Holly Hunter won Best Actress for “The Piano”; Jean Dujardin won Best Actor for “The Artist.” It’s too early to tell whether Hawkins will join their company, but the rapturous reviews prove she’s a contender to watch. Other Best Actress contenders set to emerge from Venice include Jennifer Lawrence in “mother!”
Fox Searchlight will release “The Shape of Water” in theaters December 8.