Dark River


Director: Clio Barnard

Cast: Ruth Wilson, Mark Stanley, Sean Bean

Runtime: 89 minutes

Dark River is out on general release and is currently showing at Home, Manchester.

Clio Barnard’s latest film is as cinematic and compelling as the Yorkshire Dales in which it is set. Featuring outstanding performances from both Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley, and accompanied by the stark beauty of PJ Harvey’s An Acre of Land, this is an award worthy film destined for classic status.

We can try to outrun the past. We can try. In the paucity of natural, unaided human vision, we see only the present. Scrutinising the landscape, we can see tell-tale signs everywhere, but these are only tracks, clues, mementos of yesterdays, long ago and far behind. We skirt the edges of glacial meltwater tarns and plunge naked into the heart quickening whirls of Janet’s Foss. We catch glimpses of mustelids wriggling between the rivulets etched deep into the limestone paving of the cove. Weasels or stoats? Who knows. Rustling and wriggling just below the surface. Away from the eyes of the peregrine returning to the cliff.

We can try to outrun the past. We can try. Looking back now, as the sun sets and you walk to your quarters alone, you feel the chill on your back, you turn to look and in the deepening shadows it is glistening, the head of the glacier, twelve thousand years old, now freezing your heels as the ice grows thick.

You can run. You can run. One booted foot clumping over the other, propelling your body over hilltops, their arcing profiles two dimensional against the cool blue sky of the coming night. The ground shakes. You are too, too small for this landscape, this night and this fight. We can try when there is nothing else we can do.

There is no home to run back to. There is the static caravan, the grim make-do shed, the outhouse, the barn. There are rats beyond poison and there are sheep below and beyond price. Monbiot’s Mesopotamian pest infests everything for miles around, for centuries around. Trees felled, land exposed, rivers flood tears and blood.

Inside the caravan, the shed, the outhouse, the barn; inside the home that is not a home, the shelter, the hole… the darkness, the pain. The rats gnawing through the cables. Through the window that does not open, opaque with dust, dirt and grease from the hob, you can see the battlefields, the livestock, dead stock, running from one end to the next, from one next to the end. On the battlefields factions converge, iterations of life from across the centuries: the landowner’s agents, the old methods, the hard ways, when industry was still a dream, the sprays and the poisons of the chemical age. The ramshackle once-farmhouse straddles three centuries and more, the friction between these moving tectonics eroding its foundations, the singularity of the present crashing into view. No more compromises, no more pasts, no more prisoners, only now.

We can try to outrun the past. We can try.

Watch the trailer for Dark River here: 


All words by Lee Ashworth. More writing by Lee Ashworth can be found at his author’s archive. Lee Ashworth is also on twitter as @Lee_Ashworth_ and has a website here.


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