Dark River Preview – Yorkshire-based film hits theatres

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Dark River – Preview

by Karl Hornsey

Dark River, the latest film by writer and director Clio Barnard, has reached the big screen. Having been filmed in June 2016 the film has garnered positive reviews for its gritty realism and emotional storyline, and its release into cinemas seems sure to bring Barnard’s work to a mainstream audience.

The film tells the story of Alice (Ruth Wilson), who returns home to Yorkshire for the first time in 15 years following the death of her father (Sean Bean). Alice believes the family farm to be hers, but she is reunited with her brother Joe (Mark Stanley), who has been keeping the farm going against all odds in Alice’s absence, and resents her return to the fold.

dark river film preview

“Sheer beauty of the Dales”

What follows is essentially a two-hander between Wilson and Stanley, with Bean’s part being shown in flashback to fill in the back story of how and why Alice has ended up as she has. There is a bleakness and genuine feel to the film, eschewing the oft-used romanticism of farming life for the reality, and in this respect the locations play a huge role in the production.

Set entirely in Yorkshire and part-funded by Screen Yorkshire, the landscape of Skipton, Malham and Embsay is the perfect backdrop for the film, as Joe, resentful at Alice’s return, is approached by investors wanting to take the farm off his hands. The sheer beauty of the Dales is laid out for all to see, but with that harsh reality of life on a remote farm always at the heart of the picture.

Barnard’s work on The Arbor and The Selfish has marked her out as one of the leading innovative directors in the country, while Wilson is regarded as one of its finest actors, having risen to fame in recent years with her work on TV series Luther and The Affair.

dark river film preview made in yorkshire

“I had to gut rabbits”

While originally from Leeds, Wilson needed to broaden her accent for the film and immerse herself entirely in the life of those she was effectively portraying, as she explains: “The prep was really vital, because there were lots of things I was supposed to be very good at, which I’d never done before in my life. I had to be a sheep shearer, and a very good one who’s been doing it for 15 years. I was learning to shear, to clip, castrate, dose sheep, pull them by the horns, how to manage them. I trained with a sheepdog. I had to gut rabbits. And it was essential to get my accent right.”

 Living for three weeks with a farming family also helped Wilson to understand her character, which explains how she has been able to portray such a visceral, real and believable performance, even if the audience has a building sense of dread as to how the story will unfold. The traumatic memories of the past are gradually brought to the fore, and there is no doubt this isn’t an easy watch by any means, but the sheer power of the performance by Wilson and Stanley, along with the stunning backdrop of the Yorkshire landscape, mark this out as a must-see film.

‘Dark River’ is in cinemas on February 23rd, 2018

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