Woe, woe, thrice woe
- Gwen review by Alphaville
Fancy a couple of hours wallowing in miserableness? Set in the poverty-stricken North Wales of the 1800s, this is the film for you. Teenager Gwen lives near a quarry. Her mother is ill, her father’s away, the mining company is ruthless… As for the weather, it’s bleak (who’d have thought?). Although praised for its acting and atmosphere, it’s a complete downer, more suited to television than cinema (although you’d soon switch channels). Yet another example of depressing small-ambition British cinema miserabilism. Do watch the trailer first.
5 out of 7 members found this review helpful.
Unrelenting violence and inhumanity
- Gwen review by TE
The reviews so far, by Alphaville and by PD (we can safely ignore the whining rant by PV!) give contrasting reactions to this grim, bleak movie.
I don't see any of the Hardy similarities referred to by PD. Hardy was good at tragedy because he wrote careful build-ups to the tragic endings, and he included some light to contrast with the dark.
Here there is nothing but inarticulate doom, with no build-up and no modulation.
The best thing about the film is its sense of place. Anyone who has wandered around the slate mining area of North Wales will recognise the prevailing air of damp darkness.
It's a pity that the story and the characterisation are so one-dimensional. I love Maxine Peake's work but she is not stretched here at all.
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful.
Hardyesque tale of fear and isolation
- Gwen review by PD
Writer-director William McGregor’s debut film is more Thomas Hardy than Hammer Horror, and is all the better for it, in my view. The film is carried by a quite superb performance from Eleanor Worthington-Cox, whose bewilderment, fear, strength and sheer spiritual force is Tess of the D'Urbervilles meets Sue Bridehead. For this is a film where a lot more is going on than meets the eye, notably, what happens when a young person’s faith gets shaken, as Gwen begins to doubt her mum has what it takes to lead her out of the family's predicament - there's a great, very brief moment, when she throws a cross on the fire. And also, aka Hardy, it's about social change and the possibility that what Gwen’s family is facing isn’t a disease or a demon, but rather the inevitable end of agrarian life - for nothing could be more frightening than the inevitable industrial takeover. 'Gwen' is a well-crafted folk-style tale of fear, suspicion and isolation, nestled deep within the Snowdonian mountains, where the mundane quickly becomes sinister. Laughter turns into screaming, a passerby becomes a threat, and reality and nightmare bleed into each other. Gwen (and the audience) want answers – but we rarely get them, for McGregor does not pander to the audience.
It's not without its weakness, for while Maxine Peake is very good as the overbearing mother figure with hints of a gentler soul underneath, there's not quite enough to really get under her skin for me, whilst pretty much all the other characters are mysterious types, their motives and concerns unknown to us. And if you're going to do something unremittingly bleak (no problem with this at all in principle, and there are some truly skin-creeping moments, particularly when viewed as they are from Gwen's perspective) then somehow the audience has to be sustained along the way, and occasionally it is in danger of falling under its own weight, whilst the ending (for me) is not handled in such a way to make it convincing. Nevertheless, McGregor ultimately succeeds in creating a distinctly creepy, socio-political narrative.
3 out of 5 members found this review helpful.