By Richard Prendergast | Drama
A young girl tells the story of her brother's fight with cancer -- as a gladiator.

A little girl named India has wandered off at a hospital. As her mother takes off in search of her, India herself is on a mission: she's looking for a particular man, who she spots on a bench on the hospital grounds.

India sidles up to the man and engages him in conversation. She tells him a story that only a child can make up, full of wizards, beasts and angels. But there is more to the little girl's story than initially seems on the surface.

Written and directed by Richard Prendergast, this short fantasy drama begins on a crest of tension, with an army commander preparing himself for war. But then we cut to an unexpectedly modern setting of the hospital, immediately upending viewer expectations, as a young mom bustles off to pick up her son and then finds her younger daughter India, who has wandered off. Then we cut to that young girl conducting surveillance on an older man trying to take a cigarette break.

It's an intriguing blend of seemingly disparate elements, and part of the pleasure of the film is seeing these parts come together and connect, aided by an excellent script. The skillful blending of genres -- from sci-fi war epic to modern naturalism -- also interconnect in fascinating ways, providing moments of levity and insight along the way.

Each mode is enjoyable taken as separate strands: the epic fantasy battle section is taut, tense and powerful spectacle that fans of the genre will find enjoyable, and India's conversation with the older man is charmingly written and acted, thanks to a sweet performance by young actor Maisie Prendergast and actor Albert Clogston.

But they both build up a central mystery: who exactly is Maximus, really? The answer comes together in a sweetly satisfying conclusion, answering the logical question of who he is and the emotional one of how they are all connected.

Based on a true story and longlisted for the short film BAFTA, "Maximus" ultimately tugs at the heartstrings with its blend of heartfelt sincerity, imagination and dramatic flair. It's a testament to a family's struggle with catastrophic illness, and it honors the heroism of the healing professions. That message is especially poignant during this time of global pandemic. In a time of unprecedented challenge, India's story about her warrior brother helps us remember just how miraculous the work of doctors, nurses and other medical professions is and reminds us not to take this magic for granted.

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