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In 1855, deep in one of Snowdonia’s valleys, teenage farmhand Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox, in a star-making performance) supports her mother, Elen (Maxine Peake, considerably less controlled), herding sheep, cooking (or, rather, burning) dinner and looking after her little sister (Jodie Innes). Her father is absent. The neighbours are dying. The potatoes growing on their desolate, wind-bitten farm are rotting and cholera is raging through the community.
Director William McGregor establishes a brooding and paranoid tone in this ambitious gothic drama. The women experience night terrors and mysterious fits, perform bloodletting and burn their slain livestock. The film is ambiguous about the forces that animate their misery; could they be something supernatural, the patriarchal landowners threatening to reclaim a woman’s land or simply the crushing inevitability of the Industrial Revolution rendering their livelihood as farmers obsolete?
As a genre exercise, the film starts promisingly enough, contrasting claustrophobic, dimly lit interiors with atmospheric wides of the landscape composed like moody paintings. Worthington-Cox is compelling, by turns twitchy, tentative, stoic and bold. Still, something isn’t clicking. There comes a point at which the suffering the characters endure undermines their power instead of reinforcing it.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Gwen review – brooding but unsatisfying rural period mystery | Period and historical films