Dark River

Dark River
Dark River
Directed by Clio Barnard
Starring Ruth Wilson, Mark Stanley, Sean Bean, Esme Creed-Miles, Aiden McCullough and Shane Attwooll
In UK Cinemas February 23rd, 2018

by Michael Anderson

Deserved plaudits for 2013 breakthrough The Selfish Giant still just about ringing in her ears, Clio Barnard continues to carve out her own niche in the landscape of British cinema (and it really is a landscape for Barnard) with this rural family drama.

Following her father’s death, Alice (Ruth Wilson) returns to her Yorkshire homestead to take over the day-to-day operations of the farm and inherit the tenancy she believes to be hers. Alice has been away for a number of years, and the trauma behind this absence provides an air of increasingly horrific mystery alongside the familial tensions with her bedraggled and borderline-alcoholic brother, Joe (Mark Stanley). As she reconnects with other old acquaintances and slowly becomes more involved in the running of the farm, Alice realises she has to face the past now or let it rule her forever.

Dark River bears uncanny and significant resemblance to Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling (2016) which also explored simmering discontent on a struggling farm (this time in East Anglia), centring on the return of a prodigal daughter following a family death. Both films share a bleak, unconditional love of the British landscape, replete with establishing shots of weather moving over long grass, small creatures, clouds rolling ominously across a slate sky, etc – all very atmospheric, and as beautiful as a walk in the rain. In fact they are almost too similar to make decent companion pieces (perhaps the directors compared production notes?), but the threads at which they pick are relevant and disturbing: the long slow death of a certain type of rural life, through depleted farm subsidies, smarmy land-grabs and a generation aware of the rubbish hand they’ve been dealt; both offer hope that family will pull through, but take rather less optimistic views of the farms themselves. These are important points, and first Leach and now Barnard do well to raise them.

But back to Dark River alone. Barnard’s script was either a sparsely populated few pages or has been significantly pared back in the edit: While prolonged silence matches the Yorkshire stereotype, as a dramatic device it requires either a certain amount of goodwill on the part of the audience, or absolutely phenomenal performances. This is not to say that Wilson or Stanley let the film down – far from it. Both cope well with a very specific accent, without ever slipping into by ‘eck caricature, and have clearly had lessons in shearing and dipping sheep; while you’d not mistake them for farmers any time soon, they’re very good at acting like them. More to the point, they have a believable dynamic and the scenes between the two of them are the most powerful in the film.

Ultimately, though, amidst myriad silent stares through caravan windows or across broken farm machinery, Alice’s processing of her trauma – the acceptance of her victimhood – are not sufficiently elaborated upon, doing both character and performer a disservice. As the deceased patriarch looming over proceedings, Sean Bean makes an impression (and gives the film someone else to put on the poster) but the flashback scenes in which we meet him seem to provide much of the dramatic thrust and are less successful than those in the present: While we are just about drawn into Alice’s harrowed wrestling with the past, the edits and overlaps do not automatically work as cinematic shorthand for breakdown and catharsis. The resulting climax feels unearned and forced, to leave a lingering sense of what might have been. That said, Barnard is both an interesting filmmaker and a maker of interesting films – look forward to her next with relish.


One Response to “Dark River”

  1. webpage says:

    Levando em consideração a relevância dos conteúdos.

Leave a Reply