Dark River (2017)

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Image via miff.com.au

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This one was a last minute swap when I couldn’t face racing to Hoyts to be potentially disappointed by Robert Pattinson in the farcical, some say feminist western Damsel. That’s one of those films that can be a delight or a travesty and I didn’t feel like risking it. Dark River was a good choice. Directed by Clio Barnard it’s a dark and brooding tale of abuse as seen through the eyes of a survivor.

Alice (Ruth Wilson) returns to her family farm in Yorkshire after the death of her father (Sean Bean). Her brother Joe (Mark Stanley) has maintained the tenancy but the holding has deteriorated. Alice comes with ideas and a determination that seems to stem from her need to rid herself of demons from her childhood. Joe isn’t thrilled to see her, as you can imagine, and their different ideas and unresolved issues from their past sees them come to blows.

The sparseness and beauty of the landscape and the harshness of the farming life is beautifully realised. The tensions between Joe and Alice simmer, undercut by the silent presence of their father. Emerging as arguments about hay versus silage and whether to sell lambs or not, what it’s really all about is a deep sense of betrayal.

Barnard slowly build the tension as you see the repercussions of the damage done to a child. It’s affecting and feels authentic in its darkness and intensity of emotion. Ruth Wilson is outstanding, allowing us to understand something about the complexity of survival.

Framing the story is the sad reality of farming as a dying livelihood, being slowly destroyed by global markets and land development. This mirrors the experiences of the siblings, and I can see a metaphor in the ‘shepherds needle’, in the verdancy of the meadow that is only benign when left to flourish.


Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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