Red Road

We experience most of the early scenes of Andrea Arnold’s debut feature through CCTV. Jackie (Kate Dickie) has a square-eyed job: she surveys the people of Glasgow via a bank of TV screens. She spies on kids who fight, dogs who walk, cleaners who dance, and drunken young couples who grab quickies behind lock-ups. The mood is heavy from the off – heavy with mystery and gloom and past tragedies. Jackie is depressed, resigned to sadness, damaged. We watch her at work: a job she enjoys for its benign voyeurism. We watch her at rest: a state of mind she finds more difficult. At her sister-in-law’s wedding, she melts into the background, alone. In the front seat of a security guard’s van, she has perfunctory, fortnightly sex, unsatisfied. We discover that she has an awkward relationship with her ageing, sad father-in-law, who can’t look her in the eye.

It’s the entire length of the film before we discover what past family tragedy has put Jackie’s life on hold and her in an unhappy state of suspended animation. It’s a tragedy (unfair to recount here) that returns violently to haunt her when she spots Clyde (Tony Curran) on her CCTV screen. He’s a tough and gregarious man, a locksmith popular with the area’s  lost souls, such as young couple Stevie (Martin Compston) and April (Natalie Press), who share Clyde’s run-down flat on the imposing Red Road estate. He’s fresh out of jail, and when Jackie starts to flirt with him, first at a distance and later literally, we know that she’s living dangerously. The lack of information makes for a cocked, loaded experience. It’s brave, confident filmmaking that refuses to conform to easy conventions. It’s incredibly tense.

We never leave Jackie. The camera stays close as the rest of the world slips in and out of focus. This is first-person cinema. Arnold is a resistant filmmaker. She holds back information and indulges in a slow pace and a mysterious mood. Most of the action takes place on the sidelines, away from Jackie. There’s a vicious fight in a pub. There’s a great party scene, too, which recalls another party scene in Lynne Ramsay’s ‘Morvern Callar’, also seen from the viewpoint of a disengaged woman preoccupied with a secret. The film’s coup de théâtre, though, is an astonishing sex scene, the most powerful in a long time, that plays out in the nervy flickering light of a table-lamp kicked over by one of the players.

The film begs some questions, mainly about behaviour. Would Jackie act in such a way as we witness? Are her more extreme reactions a genuine product of grief? It’s an intriguing film to consider, and Arnold is the most sly of hosts. It’s a style of storytelling that’s both incredibly bold and distinctly promising.

Release details

Rated: 18
Release date: Friday October 27 2006
Duration: 113 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Andrea Arnold
Screenwriter: Andrea Arnold
Cast: Natalie Press
Paul Higgins
Martin Compston
Andy Armour
Kate Dickie
Tony Curran

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

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