Following the death of her father, Alice (Ruth Wilson) returns to her home village for the first time in 15 years, to claim the tenancy to the family farm she believes is rightfully hers.
‘Dark River’, the latest film from Clio Barnard, is a raw British drama set in the farmlands of Yorkshire and focusing on a young woman who returns home for the first time in fifteen years after the death of her father. In the years that have passed since she left the farm has gone to ruin under the care of her ailing father and her unstable brother (Mark Stanley), and Alice (Ruth Wilson) has returned to claim the tenancy she believes is her right. Unsurprisingly this causes clashes with her brother, who is filled with bitterness and anger, and resentfulness towards Alice for abandoning the family many years ago whilst he has been worn down by the struggles to keep the farm going. This is a solid follow up to ‘The Selfish Giant’ for Barnard but it never captivated me in the way that outstanding film did, and it also suffers from inevitable comparisons to Hope Dickson Leach’s ‘The Levelling’ from last year, a better film with a similar subject matter.
Alice is introduced as a stubborn, headstrong individual who is haunted by memories of her abusive father (Sean Bean) and it becomes clear his presence is the reason for her extended absence. Her return to the farm brings those memories flooding back and impacts on her every thought, especially when confronted with people from her past unaware of her father’s true nature. Ruth Wilson’s performance is compelling and she sells Alice’s anguish as she is forced to battle these demons with reminders at every corner, and a struggling farm that requires her full focus and attention. As her brother Joe, Mark Stanley is also excellent as a destructive presence who manages to draw a certain degree of empathy through his performance and the knowledge that the circumstances of his life led him to be the man he is today. The film stumbles into melodrama as it approaches the conclusion and it doesn’t pack the punch I’m sure it intended, but I did find much to like in the grimy, painful environment Barnard has built.
‘Dark River’ is a bleak British drama from Clio Barnard, utilising the grey skies and sparse landscape to tell a story of dark secrets and a legacy that’s left irrevocable damage on two siblings, and whilst it didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped, this is still a worthwhile watch for Wilson’s captivating display alone.
Directed By: Clio Barnard
Starring: Ruth Wilson, Mark Stanley and Sean Bean