THE ROAD DANCE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Richie Adams

Stars: Hermione Corfield, Will Fletcher, Morven Christie, Mark Gattis, Tom Byrne, Ali Fumiko Whitney, Alison Peebles, Ian Pirie, Jeff Stewart. 

The Road Dance (2021) – Film Review mark gatiss

This bleak melodrama is set against the backdrop of a tight knit crofting community on the storm lashed and isolated island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 1916. It is based on the bestselling 2002 novel of the same name written by SKY TV journalist John MacKay, and the events of the book were supposedly inspired by a true incident of Scottish lore. The novel has been adapted to the screen by director Richie Adams, a former designer of movie credit and title sequences for films like Ad Astra and Amsterdam, etc, making his feature film debut here. While Adams has taken some liberties with the source material the film remains reasonably faithful and respectful.  

Kirsty Macleod (Hermione Corfield) wants more out of life than her small rustic village can offer, and she dreams of eventually making her way to America with her boyfriend, the sensitive Murdo MacAulay (Will Fletcher, from the tv series The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power, making his feature film debut), who shares her interest in literature and poetry. Kirsty is a kindly person who often delivers food supplies to the local eccentric recluse Skipper (Jeff Stewart, from tv series The Bill, etc).  

But fate intervenes when four local lads, including Murdo, are conscripted into the army and sent off to fight in the battlefields of France. Kirsty is heartbroken but promises to write to Murdo every day. The night before the lads leave the villagers hold a road dance party, full of music, drink and good cheer. But during the night Kirsty is attacked and brutally raped by an unknown assailant. She remains silent about the incident, keeping the attack secret until her pregnancy becomes obvious.  

Then she receives word that Murdo has been killed in action and is devastated. She has to make some tough choices. This leads to a chain of tragic events. Only the town’s sympathetic doctor Dr MacLean (Mark Gattis, who played Mycroft Holmes in the tv series Sherlock) seems to understand Kirsty’s dilemma, and is supportive, especially when the local constable McRae (Ian Pirie) begins probing. We become emotionally invested in Kirsty’s journey. 

The film deals with some important themes though including family, loss and grief, trauma, community, the futility of war, justice, isolation, and the role of women in the early years of the twentieth century especially in a patriarchal society like Lewis. Adams’ approach to the material is unsentimental, and he handles the rape sequence tastefully. 

Made on a relatively low budget this is undoubtedly a handsomely mounted production with great costumes and authentic period detail. The Road Dance has been beautifully shot in widescreen by Petra Korner (The Wackness, etc), who captures the harsh beauty of the setting, and the film deserves to be seen on the big screen. Korner also uses lots of natural lighting and a muted colour palette which adds to the bleak feel of the material. The film was shot on location in the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, and the bleak windswept and rugged scenery adds to the authenticity of the setting. Carlos Jose Alvarez’s evocative score draws heavily on Scottish influences, although he eschews the use of bagpipes, and it is often quite haunting.   

Adams draws good performances from his cast. Corfield, who has had small roles in films like Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Last Jedi, makes the most of her biggest role to date and she brings a mix of strength, resolve and vulnerability to her performance. She seems set for a big future as a dramatic actress. She and Fletcher develop a good chemistry in their few shared scenes. Morven Christie (from tv series Grantchester, etc) brings strength and intelligence and empathy to her role as Mairi, Kirsty’s widowed mother, while Ali Fumiko Whitney is solid as Kirsty’s younger sister Annie. Alison Peebles (also in The Lost King, etc) is memorable as Old Peggy, the village busybody. 

The Road Dance is a somewhat old-fashioned and melodramatic weepie and seems like it could have been made during the 40s or 50s when this kind of film was popular with audiences. The Road Dance is let down slightly by a contrived happy ending which requires a suspension of disbelief. 

★★★

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