Iona takes her teenage son to the holy island where she was born so they can hide from a violent crime. As her son seeks forgiveness for what he has done Iona comes to terms with her loss of faith.
Over the years there have been several films set on islands off the coast of Scotland, with some of the most notable being the likes of ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘Whisky Galore!’. ‘Iona’ follows in their footsteps with its setting on the titular island, although this is an altogether different kind of film to the two mentioned. The follow up to Scott Graham’s 2012 debut ‘Shell’, this is a solemn film about a woman and her son returning to the island where she was born to escape the consequences of a tragedy on the mainland. The lead character (also called Iona) is played by Ruth Negga, likely known to most for roles in the TV series ‘Misfits’ and ‘Marvel’s Agents of Shield’, and she delivers a truly captivating performance at the centre of the film.
‘Iona’ takes its time to tease out its main backstory as to why Iona and her son Bull (newcomer Ben Gallagher) have returned and this can lead to the script feeling a little soapy at times. For a film aiming for social realism, Graham’s script packs in too many revelations about the past that don’t always feel necessary. This leads to characters talking in riddles to avoid revealing key pieces of information earlier than the plot intends and it takes the viewer out of the moment. The primary theme surrounds Iona trying to escape her past, both recent and distant, and discovering that it’s not as easy as she’d like. Focusing on this element allows Ruth Negga to build a layered and subtle performance and she helps to elevate the material in its weaker moments. Out of the support, ‘Shetland’ star Douglas Henshall stands out as a complex father figure.
The island of Iona is a truly beautiful place, and the gorgeous setting is explored to maximum effect by the shimmering cinematography. It’s great to see one of Scotland’s smallest outposts on the big screen and the setting off Iona, both visually and in terms of the small religious community is well suited to the film’s themes. This beauty contrasts with the bleakness of the story, which pulls no punches in showing the consequences of the situation Iona finds herself in.
‘Iona’ is a compelling story worth telling, and through Ruth Negga’s convincing performance and the gorgeous setting it manages to overcome the slightly soapy script.
Directed By: Scott Graham
Starring: Ruth Negga, Tom Brooke, Michelle Duncan, Ben Gallagher, Sorcha Groundsell, Douglas Henshall, Jim Sturgeon and Matthew Zajac