Dark River

Film, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(1user review)
Dark River

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

A highly charged but oddly abbreviated drama in which Ruth Wilson and newcomer Mark Stanley share top billing with the spectacular Yorkshire landscape.

You wait ages for a hard-hitting drama set in the Yorkshire Dales, then two come along almost at once. Unlike in last year’s ‘God’s Own Country’, love is in short supply in a homecoming fable that writer-director Clio Barnard juices for every drop of quiet anguish. Sensitively depicting the psychic scars of domestic abuse, only a frustratingly abrupt final act leaves it falling short of Barnard’s remarkable previous work.

We meet farmhand Alice (Ruth Wilson) proficiently shearing sheep, but soon she’s heading back to her childhood farm after the death of her dad. Awaiting her is long-estranged brother Joe (Mark Stanley), who’s only half running the place and self-medicating with booze. Alice has a legitimate claim to this rusting collection of barns, but he’s not giving them up without a fight.

The pair sparks ferociously off each other, as the root cause of their troubles – an abusive dad (Sean Bean) – is glimpsed in flashbacks. The farmhouse is haunted with bad memories but for Alice, the allure of home is strong.

It’s kitchen-sink meets sheep-dipper: a nightmare nestled inside a rural idyll. Full of gruff exchanges and bursts of rage, Barnard’s script coils like a fuse towards a bundle of TNT that never quite detonates. It's essentially an intimate two-hander: Wilson and Stanley bring such vulnerability and sympathy to their characters, you’re left wanting more. It’s heartbreaking stuff and Barnard strips it back to its rawest emotions. Like the skeletons buried in this story, there’s not an ounce of fat on its bones.


Release details

Release date:
Friday February 23 2018
90 mins

Cast and crew

Clio Barnard
Clio Barnard
Ruth Wilson
Sean Bean
Mark Stanley

Users say (1)

5 out of 5 stars
1 person listening

I don't get the criticisms levelled at Dark River giving 3-star reviews that probably kept some away and led me to expect a secondary work. I didn't get a sense of 'truncation', just a thoroughly satisfying psychological film. Peter Bradshaw contradicted himself by saying it was on the one hand standard social realism while recognising deep trauma underlying tough exteriors, the past in the present, competition v cooperation undercut by material gain. The Yorkshire landscape was presented in atmospheric detail, beautiful and bleak -  the rustling leaves reminded me of Blow-Up, nature was often an adversary amplifying the central conflicts & themes, the plunge pool illustrating the powerful psychological pull of the past. First rate, a powerful & imaginative follow-up to The Selfish Giant. And now 3 British films with fear on  the farm (Dark River, The Levelling, God's Own Country) - unspoken Brexit anxieties with less rural subsidy perhaps?