Dark River

Ruth Wilson in Dark River
Ruth Wilson in Dark River

I’ve just come back from watching a preview of Dark River, Clio Barnard’s new film, and hearing Clio speak about the making of the film and it’s pretty much all I can think about.

I love the look of this film. The score is sparse with the sounds of the landscape making up a great deal of the ambient sound of the film. The story is told through a lot of action with dialogue being minimal1. With minimal dialogue, although you are carried along with the story, you’re also allowed space to interpret the events and draw your own conclusions. As a writer, this is my favourite type of storytelling. I love stoic, uncommunicative characters, I love the space to interpret body language and physical reactions; I love a reliance on the audience as human beings to understand. I love subtext. Quiet, personal drama like this, that packs emotional punch, are what I aspire to write.

That is not to say Dark River lacked drama. That much pent up emotion has to come out eventually, and when it does it’s explosive and compelling and terrifying.

Barnard mentioned memory in her post-show discussion. Alice’s (Ruth Wilson) childhood trauma, inextricably linked to the place she grew up – the place she is returning to – is shown through a series of invasive memories, things she has to deal with not reminiscences she invites. It is powerful, and whilst Barnard worried they felt like flashbacks, I think that was only the case when we saw Alice’s younger self. When the memories appeared from adult Alice’s POV, it felt as disturbing and unwelcome as Barnard had intended.

Visually this film is stunning. Yorkshire providing a backdrop which is, in turn, both bleak and idyllic: the onward surge of nature juxtaposed with the decay of infrastructure as farming communities struggle and fail2.

1. Clio Barnard said for many of scenes a lot of dialogue was written for the scene but it was pared back in the edit because the performances from the two leads was powerful enough to communicate what they were feeling without relying on dialogue.
2. Barnard spoke about her research for the film. She met a lot of farmers who drove lorries to earn a living because the farms they inherited, or took over as tenant farmers, are not viable in the face of modern agriculture. They call the flocks across Yorkshire ‘ornamental sheep’ because their only purpose is to ensure Yorkshire still looks like you’d expect it to.