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Nell film poster
Directed by Michael Apted
Produced by Jodie Foster
Renee Missel
Graham Place
Written by William Nicholson, Mark Handley (screenplay)
Based on the play Idioglossia by Mark Handley
Starring Jodie Foster
Liam Neeson
Natasha Richardson
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Dante Spinotti
Editing by Jim Clark
Distributed by USA/Canada
20th Century Fox
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Release date(s) December 14, 1994 (New York City, New York)
December 23, 1994 (US)
Running time 113 min.
Language English, Nellish
Budget N/A

Nell is a 1994 drama film starring Jodie Foster as a young woman who has to face other people for the first time after being raised by her mother in an isolated cabin. The film was directed by Michael Apted, and was based on Mark Handley's play Idioglossia. The original music score is composed by Mark Isham. Foster was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for her role, and won a Screen Actors Guild Award. The two co-stars, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, married the year the film was released.


Plot summary

Nell Kellty's mother was paralyzed on one side, which contributed to the oddity of Nell's speech. She and her mother live in an isolated cabin in the mountains of extreme Western North Carolina. Technically, because she lives in a house, cooks her food, wears clothing and performs routine household tasks, she is not a "wild child" or feral child. She seems like one to outsiders at first, because of her terror of strangers, her ritualistic behaviors, and her unintelligible, idiosyncratic language. This language is made up of English-like phrases that are a blend of stroke-impaired speech and twin language.

Once Nell’s mother dies, she is confronted by the outside world through Dr. Jerome Lovell (Liam Neeson) and Dr. Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson). When Lovell goes there to declare her mother dead, Nell screams and fights, but gradually adjusts to his presence as he visits more and more often.

Unsure what to do, he talks to psychologist Paula Olsen in Charlotte, who wants to bring Nell to a laboratory for tests. When Lovell fights this in the courts, he and Olsen are given three months to observe Nell in her own home; when this period of observation ends, the judge will rule on Nell's fate.

Production history

Jodie Foster originally hired Mary Steenburgen for the role of Nell. Steenburgen's middle name is Nell. Foster was set to direct and it was a project to be directed by her. However, Michael Apted preferred to direct and offered the role to Natasha Richardson. Within a few weeks prior to production, Foster accepted the part of Nell and Richardson was cast as Paula Olsen. The role of Paula, however was originally offered to Christina Applegate, and later to Bridget Fonda.


Actor Role
Jodie Foster Nell Kellty
Liam Neeson Dr. Jerome 'Jerry' Lovell
Natasha Richardson Dr. Paula Olsen
Richard Libertini Dr. Alexander 'Al' Paley
Nick Searcy Sheriff Todd Peterson
Jeremy Davies Billy Fisher
Robin Mullins Mary Peterson
O'Neal Compton Don Fontana, Lovell's Attorney
Sean Bridgers Mike Ibarra, the Reporter
Joe Inscoe Judge
Heather M. Bomba
Marianne E. Bomba
Stephanie Dawn Wood Ruthie Lovell
Nicole Adair Autistic Child
Marlon Jackson Male Nurse

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