In Cinemas

The Road Dance review – a remote and distant Scottish period drama

Great performances and rich atmosphere can't draw attention away from this film’s muddied sexual assault plot

In a small village in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, silence is a virtue. In Richie Adams’ atmospheric period drama, The Road Dance, the nattering of local gossip, the roar of the ocean, and the village band’s music flow in the Scottish breeze from one frame to the next. But beyond the majestic coastal visuals of its setting, this adaptation of John MacKay’s novel of the same name falls flat in an attempt to portray oppression under a patriarchal society.

The Road Dance introduces its young protagonist Kirsty (Hermione Corfield) as the clouds of the First World War begin to blanket a small community on the Isle of Lewis. Kirsty’s dreams of escaping this isolation and venture across the pond are keeping her hope alive. In this respect, she resembles Little Women’s Jo, a young woman before her time trapped in a place she has outgrown. Kirsty’s Laurie is Murdo (Will Fletcher), a young poetry-loving man who is called on for military service which disrupts their fated romance. As dusk settles and the village bids farewell to the young men leaving for England, Kirsty is pushed to the ground and raped.

In spite of the excellent production design and costumes, and the breadth of these landscapes, it’s unfortunate The Road Dance’s script is hellbent on a heavy-handed plot of sexual assault. The depiction of Kirsty’s rape is reductive and defaults to cliché period drama tropes. The film’s avenues for sensitivity are established and then abandoned. Male voices dominate this story of a young woman’s trauma, from the Robert Louis Stevenson opening quote to the male gazey direction when it comes to the brutal portrayal of sexual assault and women victims.

Kirsty is left alone and terrified in the expansive frames of ​​cinematographer Petra Korner’s camera which makes the Outer Hebrides look like a landscape painting. It is in these wide shots of wilderness that Kirsty confronts her distressing isolation, leaving her to ponder the fate of herself and her unborn child. “Is every sin the same then? Are they all equal?” she asks, a bite behind her words as she comes to terms with the true horror of her situation.

Even the sizeable talent of this period piece can’t alleviate some of the melodramatic character writing. However, the more experienced presence of Morven Christie and Mark Gatiss brings a gentle touch to proceedings as the younger cast navigate the emotionally-charged dramatics. Though her character may not be provided with any favours, Corfield is fantastic. Her performance pierces through the grey clouds, though it can’t liven up the muted colour palette and a swerving script that insists on extrapolating this woman’s suffering.

The Road Dance is released in UK cinemas from 20 May.

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