Premiering at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes and winning British Film of the Year at the London Critics Circle Film Awards, The Selfish Giant was Clio Barnard’s second feature. It is safe to say that after this success when her third Dark River was announced, it caught our eye.

Barnard’s thorough understanding of the persistence of the past into the experience of the present is clear. Made in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust, Dark River was developed after meeting with psychologists and psychiatrists working on trauma and memory.

Together, Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley produce a ticking time-bomb of screen drama. The siblings’ meeting after fifteen years of separation is completely unpredictable, neither character knows how to act. They do not act but react to each other, and then things start to spin out of control.

It is hard to define the genre of this film. It doesn’t feel like the cold, weighty realism we have come to expect from Barnard but something more personal, more intimate. Besides the threat of the family farm being repossessed, there’s very little social context.

It’s also difficult to put into terms just how frightening Dark River is given its depiction of how fragile the human mind is. This thriller is so sophisticated, it could almost have been crafted by the hands of one of the great dramatists working decades ago. Without it ever feeling like a stage performance, Wilson’s enormously nuanced lead turn explores the complexities of human emotion whilst maintaining the hardened exterior of someone without the freedom to properly express their emotions. It’s simply staggering.

We are rewarded with sophisticated direction from one of the greatest (if not the greatest) living British filmmakers. Dark River is a tense two-hander that builds tension to the breaking point. Be 2017 the year for fraught farm dramas!



CAST: Ruth Wilson, Mark Stanley, Sean Bean, Esme Creed-Miles

DIRECTOR: Clio Barnard

WRITERS: Clio Barnard, Rose Tremain (based on the novel, Trespass)

SYNOPSIS: Following the death of her father, Alice returns to her home village for the first time in 15 years, to claim the tenancy to the family farm she believes is rightfully hers.