What appears to be sibling rivalry masks disturbing family secrets in Clio Barnard’s film Dark River. A tautly written script (also by Ms. Barnard) and strong performances from the leads make this truly worthwhile viewing, although it is never a comfortable watch.
For the past fifteen years, Alice Bell (Ruth Wilson, The Affair) has made her living by shearing sheep on temporary contracts. She never stays in one place very long, and seems to prefer it that way. Memories of sexual abuse by her father (Sean Bean) haunt Alice; to some extent, a busy schedule helps her keep them at arm’s length.
Upon learning of her father’s death, Alice returns to the family farm to claim her tenancy. Her brother Joe (Mark Stanley, Game Of Thrones) is not pleased to see her. Joe feels that he has worked the farm of the last fifteen years, and deserves to keep doing so. He resents Alice for expecting otherwise.
The two battle over various management techniques, like whether to dip or spray the sheep for parasites and wool maintenance. As the film progresses, it becomes clear there is a deeper issue than sibling rivalry. At some level, both feel Joe should have done more to protect Alice from their father. Both realize the past cannot be changed, but neither has the slightest idea of how to move forward.
Cinematographer Adriano Goldman does a magnificent job of depicting the Yorkshire landscape. He contrasts the beauty of the countryside with the rot and decay of the Bell farm to great effect.
Theme: Sexual Abuse
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