Dir: Clio Bernard | Cast: Ruth Wilson, Sean Bean, Mark Stanley | Drama | UK | 104′
Ruth Wilson and the magnificent Yorkshire Dales are the stars of this resonating realist drama that revisits Barnard’s regular territory of childhood abuse and resilience within a male-dominated Yorkshire farming family. These are explored from the point of view of Wilson’s Alice, a feisty and enterprising young woman who is cowed by memories of her turbulent childhood once she returns home after 15 years as a sheep-sheerer abroad. In flashback it emerges that her father (Bean) regularly raped Alice as a young girl (played by young actress Esme Creed-Miles), but has since died after a long illness. Her brother Joe (Stanley) has let their tenant farm run to rack and ruin with his hard-drinking ways and psychotic outbursts symptomatic of his emotional and business inadequacies. Joe blames his shortcoming on Alice’s decision to seek a life away from her tragic past, but when Alice reveals her intention to apply for the sole tenancy of the farm and return the place to commercial viability, Joe is incensed and the place becomes a battleground.
This is a haunting portrait of female disempowerment showing how a strong and vivacious woman can be reduced to a fearful child through her memories of the past. The pain and sorrow is reflected on Wilson’s face and echoed in the stormy shifting skies and moody landscapes of North Yorkshire. Over this unhappy family set-up, commercial vultures circle in the shape of the agent seeking to repossess the farm, and a developer with an offer to buy that Jo finds difficult to refuse. Barnard’s fluid visual style reflects this ever-changing landscape of turmoil that signals doom with every passing cloud. DARK RIVER also features local flora and fauna, such as a pair of nesting barn owls, without sentimentalising their significance in daily life. MT
SCREENING DURING THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 4-15 OCTOBER 2017