Considering the challenges the film industry has faced over the past year due to the pandemic, with cinemas closed around the world and films shown primarily in trade fairs, never has the value of an audience been more essential. With that in mind, we should also put some value on the opinions of the aforementioned audience, and when it came to the recent Edinburgh International Film Festival, the faithful had one prize to vote on, the prestigious Audience Award. That award went to Richie Adams’ quietly powerful and touching period drama The Road Dance – and it’s more than worthy of the accolade.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by John MacKay, which in turn is loosely based on actual events, The Road Dance takes the viewer back to World War I and the slow, tense build-up towards the onset of battle, exploring the effects that it affects had on communities across Britain. Here we enter the Isle of Lewis, in the Scottish Outer Hebrides, meeting young Kirsty MacLeod (Hermione Corfield), who longs for an itinerary out of her small village life, with dreams of someday sailing through the pond and start over in America. She shares these secret aspirations with her even more secret lover Murdo (Will Fletcher), despite being enlisted, turning their achievable dreams into mere fantasies. The day before she leaves, the village holds a dance on the road to help the young boys who are leaving, and it is on that fateful night that Kirsty’s life changes forever.
The aesthetic of the room is striking, it is beautifully designed, managing to blend the stifling of Kirsty’s existence, with the liberating and endless possibility of the vast landscape. It is quite an achievement for us to have such a sense of his freedom and loneliness in equal measure. The themes also bring a powerful feminist streak to the film, examining war drama from a new perspective, away from the trenches and war rooms, and instead of the women left behind, fighting their own battles during this devastating time. time.
The female protagonists are strong-willed and well-crafted, and nothing more than Kirsty, remarkably animated by Corfield. The young actress brings an incredible sense of empathy and vulnerability, mixed with an inner tenacity that feels like a performance that could truly elevate this talented actress to stardom. Fletcher is also a real prospect as Murdo, and between them you almost get the vibes of Lady Macbeth and what this movie did for her trio of newcomers Florence Pugh, Naomie Ackie, and Cosmo Jarvis.
What helps performers is that the script gives them space to play, with long, dialogue-rich sequences that are used thoughtfully and that more than reward the patient viewer. Some two-handed brilliants of course rely on solid collaborations, and the young cast is helped by the exceptional talents of Morven Christie, who plays Kirsty’s mother, and Mark Gatiss, who plays the village doctor, in what looks like to a departure. for the affable interpreter.
Through these performances come sequences that are difficult to understand, as this film is not a walk in the park, with dramatic, emotionally charged scenes that will shock and compel in equal measure. Though even the most unsettling moments are handled sensitively by writer-director Adams, who brings a delicate touch to the debates, allowing this story and the characters on the page to come to life in subtle ways. You barely notice its direction, which doesn’t sound like a compliment, but trust me it is. Even the score is subdued, all feeling so nuanced and meticulous in its inclusion, to help paint this sad story.
But even with the film’s abrupt change in tone and the tragic scenes that unfold, there is a vital element of hope bubbling beneath the surface. Perhaps it is here that some comparisons can be made with the past two difficult years, and why the Edinburgh public reacted the way they did, for despite all the darkness and gloom that exists in this world, the light always remains at the end of the tunnel, and this film manages to flourish in this notion. Only.