- Film & TV
- 19 Jul 19
An underbaked gothic drama about women fighting internal and external forces.
William McGregor’s gothic period drama is set against the starkly atmospheric backdrop of 19th century Snowdonia, and stars Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen, a girl living with her younger sister and mother Elen (Maxine Peake) on a small farm. With her father away at war, Gwen tries to help her mother keep their home together, but threats loom everywhere. A ruthless mining company is slowly encroaching on their land. Potatoes rot in the soil. Sheep are mysteriously slaughtered. The burden of responsibility and fear is strong, and elevated by the eerie surrounding landscape. Cinematographer Adam Etherington captures the setting’s cold, ghostly beauty, where the rocks loom ominously, shadows consume the light, and every noise feels like a threat.
Some of these dangers could be Gwen’s youthful imagination, but Elen is also behaving erratically. Increasingly short-tempered, she has unexplained fits, wanders around in the night, and begins harming herself. Shot from Gwen’s young, confused perspective, McGregor deliberately reveals only what Gwen sees, and the result is destabilising. Watching her mother suffer, unsure if the cause is illness, psychosis, possession or grief, Gwen’s perspective is one of lost innocence: a child who sees disturbing things, but lacks the context to understand them.
This perspective of a narrator too young to be reliable is intriguing, and Worthington-Cox is an expressive actress, capturing Gwen’s anguish and resilience. But while McGregor sets up interesting questions about her condition and the impact of capitalist greed on communities, he’s less successful at answering or developing these questions in any satisfying way. Though playing with elements of horror, folklore and psychology, the narrative and character development remains undercooked and frustratingly opaque.