The eternal question with child actors is always how much they really understood of their part and how much of their performance was guided by the director – but I don’t think it truly matters how a performance is created and the only thing that should be judged is what is on the screen.
In the case of Anna Paquin, this is surely a lot. Her character is Ada’s way of communicating – she translates her mother’s sign-language but she always likes to add a spiteful tone to her voice. In this way, she’s a typical child – she likes to lie, she likes to spy, she likes to misbehave but there is always more to her. The intentions of Flora are never truly clear and of course the question is how far the intentions of this little girl can truly go. Again, Flora is like every child – not knowing or understanding a lot but thinking she does and that way acting out of her own ideas and thoughts.
Anna Paquin has a very unique screen presence – she does not get a showy part like Holly Hunter but she never is overshadowed either. Both Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin work amazingly together and during their scenes together Flora always appears as if both a little girl and an adult are trapped inside her.
It’s an essential supporting performance. She is most of the time in the background, but never slips out of the viewer’s mind and has some very impressive scenes, like when she is telling a lie about her father and of course, when she totally freaks out after her mother was punished by her husband.
It’s a very grim and dark performance, especially for a child and the character always remains a kind of mystery – and Anna Paquin is able to get all these aspects perfectly.