Tag Archives: Ruth Wilson

Clio Barnard’s Dark River

Isn’t Ruth Wilson incredible? I think so, and I haven’t even seen her in all that much but she makes such a vivid impression each time and fills the screen with her presence, like this generation’s s answer to Meg Foster. She stole the show in Gore Verbinski’s underrated Lone Ranger update and made a terrific Marissa Coulter in BBC’s impressive His Dark Materials but her work in the quietly devastating Dark River from filmmaker Clio Bernard is my favourite thing she’s done so far and is an uncommonly good, intuitively calibrated piece of organic acting.

Dark River sees her play Alice, a guarded, introverted woman who returns home to the farm near Yorkshire where she grew up after learning that her father has passed away. There she finds ghosts that linger in the squalid air, the half remembered recollections of sexual abuse at the hands of her own father, events that the homestead seems to somehow hold in the space like memories out of place and time yet still languishing about the place just to haunt her. She clashes with her troubled brother (Mark Stanley) over who will inherit the property as her father seemed to want her to keep it, and they both have different ideas on both how to run it and what to eventually do with it. This film didn’t go over with some people because of how ambient and naturalistic it is but if you need your thematic and narrative sustenance spoon-fed to you in an accessible form you’ve really picked the wrong film. This is a story about the things unsaid, the pauses between words, the feelings that sensory recall evokes and the way a place, so specific in setting and atmosphere, can dredge up memories never thought to be felt again.

Ruth is transcendent and heart wrenching as Alice, who harbours deep trauma from her father’s abuse and confused resentment towards her brother for never intervening. Her path is a tragic one, full of rain soaked sheep pastures, introspective turmoil and dread laced flashbacks. Yet despite all this gloom and sadness there’s a brightness and vitality to her performance, opposite notes found in a sea of woe that provide blooms of hope and retribution if only she can put the past to rest. Her story is an immediate, intimate and deeply affecting one, provided one has the proper attention to invest as it is meditative and not readily spelled out for us, the viewer but rather felt on a deeper level.

Her father is seen fleetingly in fragmented impressions of the past and is for some reason played by none other than Sean Bean in a sombre, cloudy cameo that really could have been played by anyone but I’ll never say no to an appearance from him, however brief and ghostly. Director Clio Barnard shows uncanny skill around the camera, giving us melancholy, sustained pictures of the English countryside resplendent with misty hillsides to mirror the restless mental fog that Alice must wade through on her journey home, a journey taken both inward and external. PJ Harvey’s absolutely gorgeous, elemental song ‘My father left me an acre of land’ plays ethereally in the opening and exodus of the film to appropriate effect. An acre of land unfortunately isn’t the only thing he left her and seeing her grapple, overcome and try her best to move on from it is one of this story’s great gifts. Phenomenal film.

-Nate Hill

Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – Season 1

If you’re a fan of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials book series you’ll know what a complex, unique, mystical and demanding story it is, deserving of an adaptation that takes themes, character and pacing seriously. If you’ve seen the 2007 Golden Compass film you will know just how monumentally, how embarrassingly they failed at bringing this very special piece of storytelling to life and doing the source material justice. Second times the charm though, I’m happy to report that HBO’s long form crack at it is a gorgeously dense, adequately mature and living, breathing, convincingly built model of Pullman’s literary work.

Logan’s Dafne Keen is Lyra Belacqua, a mysterious child adopted by a collective scholarship in an alternate dimension where every human being has a ‘daemon,’ literal pieces of their soul manifested as animals in the physical realm, lifelong companions tethered by an intangible yet essential bond. Lyra is periodically watched over by her shrewdly ambitious uncle Lord Asriel (James McAvoy understands this guy far better than Daniel Craig did), but his interests ultimately lie north in the arctic where he researches elusive metaphysical phenomena deemed ‘heresy’ by the Majesterium, a fascist, omnipresent religious sect that makes the churches of our world seem like kindergarten playtime in comparison. Anyways, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon are swept up in an epic quest northbound to discover where the missing children of the roaming Gyptian clans have gone, find answers to the secret of her own identity and even possibly unlock portals to other worlds, including our own.

In a way the film never stood a chance next to this simply by default; one book is just going to breathe better in eight hour length episodes rather than one two hour movie no matter how you spin it. However, where this truly eclipses the past effort is its attention to detail and proper care in bringing several complicated and difficult relationships to life, as well as an ever present and necessary tone of darkness. Lyra and the power mad Marissa Coulter (Ruth Wilson is terrifyingly conflicted) are such an important, vital dynamic to this story and both actresses soar in their scenes together. McAvoy finds the callous, tunnel vision mentality to Asriel nicely, this guy is no hero or proper father figure, just a desperate explorer hellbent on that horizon no matter the personal cost. James Cosmo gives a heartbreaking, Emmy worthy turn as Farder Coram, the Gyptian elder who once shared a great love with Northern Witch Serefina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas). The only somewhat weak link is Lin Manuel Miranda as gunslinging aeronaut Lee Scoresby, who is a bit less grizzled than the character demands (Sam Elliott played him far better in the film) and could use a brush up in the acting department, but he still makes an impression. There are armoured bears, battles on the ice, northern lights, trips into our world through secured doorways, voyages far into the arctic circle and more, but what makes this so successful is the human element, and the willingness to tackle themes that some young adult adaptations just don’t seem to want to address. Lyra struggles with trust, understanding the world and dealing with the adults in her life, two of which cause her great pain and suffering when they should be the two most supportive and loving ones. It’s a difficult, often harrowing and tragic journey for a child to make, but one worth taking for how seriously the show runners wish to take it. Bring on season 2.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger: A Review by Nate Hill 

There’s always those films that get buried under a landslide of terrible reviews upon release, prompting me to avoid seeing them, and to wait a while down the line, sometimes years, to take a peek. I was so excited for Disney’s The Lone Ranger, being a die hard fan of both Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp’s monolithic work on Pirates Of The Caribbean, and just a lover of all this western, as well as the old television serial. The film came out, was met with an uproar of negative buzz, I went “well, shit”, and swiftly forgot it even existed. The other day I give it a watch, and would now like to pull a Jay and Silent Bob, save up cash for flights and tour the continent beating up every critic I can find in the phone book. I was whisked away like it was the first Pirates film all over again, the swash, buckle and spectacle needed for a rousing adventure picture all firmly present and hurtling along like the numerous speeding locomotives populating the action set pieces. Obviously the material has been vividly revamped from the fairly benign black and white stories of the tv show, especially when you have a circus ringmaster like Verbinski at the reigns, the guy just loves to throw everything he has into the action, packed with dense choreography and fluid camerawork that never ceases to amaze. Johnny Depp loves to steal the show with theatrical prancing and garish, peacock like costumes, and he kind of takes center stage as Tonto, the loyal sidekick to the Lone Ranger, who is given a decidedly roguish, unstable and altogether eccentric edge that the series never had, but I consider it a welcome addition to a character who always seemed one note in the past. Armie Hammer has a rock solid visage with two electric blue eyes peeking out of that iconic leather strap mask. It’s an origin story of sorts, chronicling Reid’s journey to visit his legendary lawman brother (James Badge Dale) and family in the small town West. Also arriving, however, is ruthless butcher and psychopathic outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) at the behest of opportunistic railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Tempers flare and violence erupts, and before you know it Reid is without a family, left for dead in the desert and befriended by Tonto, who himself is a tragic loner in a way. Revenge is on the minds of both, as they venture on a journey to find Cavendish and his men, discover what slimy Cole is up to and bring order to the west, one silver bullet at a time (actually there’s only one silver bullet used in the entire film, but let’s not get technical). Now, I’ll admit that the middle of the film meanders and drags quite a bit, half losing my interest until the intrigue steps up a notch. A sequence where the pair visit a circus brothel run by a take no shit Helena Bonham Carter seems like unnecessary dead weight and could have been heavily trimmed, as could other scenes in that area that just aren’t needed and might have been excised to make the film more streamlined. It’s no matter though, because soon we are back in the saddle for a jaw dropping third act full of gunfights, train destruction and unreal stunts that seem like the sister story to Pirates, some of the action often directly mimicing parts from those films. Depp is like fifty, and still scampers around like a squirrel, it’s a sight to see. Fichtner is a world class act, his mouth permanently gashed into a gruesome snarl, the threat of violence oozing from his pores and following him like a cloud. Wilkinson can take on any role, period, and he’s in full on asshole mode, Cole is a solid gold prick and a villain of the highest order. Barry Pepper has a nice bit as a cavalry honcho who never seems to quite know what’s going on (it’s perpetual chaos), watch for Stephen Root and Ruth Wilson as Reid’s sister in law who ends up… well you’ll see. It’s fairly dark and bloody for a Disney film as well, there’s a grisly Temple Of Doom style moment and attention is paid towards America’s very dark past with the indigenous people, which is strong stuff indeed for a kid orientated film. Nothing compares to the flat out blissful adrenaline during the final action sequence though. That classic William Tell overture thunders up alongside two careening trains and your tv will struggle to keep up with such spectacle, it’s really the most fun the film has and a dizzyingly crowd pleasing sequence. All of this is told by an elderly Tonto in a museum exhibit, to a young boy who dreams of the west. A ghost from the past, part comic relief and part noble warrior, Tonto is a strange character indeed, and the old version of him has a glassy eyed reverence for his adventures before, the last one alive to remember. Many a review will tell you how bad this film is, but not mine. I found myself in pure enjoyment for the better part of it, and would gladly watch again.