Following the death of her father (Sean Bean), Alice (Ruth Wilson) returns to the farm she was brought up on to claim her right to the tenancy. Her brother Joe (Mark Stanley) has been looking after the farm, along with their dad, and disputes her claim and wants the farm for himself.
Through occasional flashbacks we learn of Alice’s abuse at the hands of her father. Whilst it, thankfully, doesn’t go into detail we’re shown enough to understand Alice’s 15-year absence from the farm and her awkward relationship with her brother as she attempts to repair the damage between them.
Dark River is a terrific showcase for Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley. Both look completely at home on a farm, whether it’s sheering sheep or fixing gates, and their clashes over what’s best for their land leads to some devastating consequences. Wilson produces a quite heart-breaking performance and skilfully conveys Alice’s desire to prove herself and her need for some kind of closure from the traumatic events of her past.
Holding his own against Wilson, Mark Stanley gives an excellent performance as Joe. His conflicted emotions at the return of his sister and the future of the farm make for intriguing viewing and in one uncomfortable scene his drunken rage is one of the most frightening rampages I’ve seen for a long time.
Although he hardly has any dialogue or screen-time, Sean Bean’s weathered face and gruff exterior create a thoroughly believable character, and his Northern presence is felt throughout the film and within the walls of the dilapidated farmhouse.
The other leading character in Dark River is the unforgiving Yorkshire countryside. Beautifully filmed with some exquisite shots of green fields, hills and rolling landscapes director, Clio Barnard, makes full use of the surroundings and accompanying weather.
Dark River is home to exceptional performances and a gritty, albeit slightly grim, Northern drama. Well worth a watch.