Startlingly bold and suggestive for its time, The Brothers is a torrid tale of passion and self destruction among young people living in an isolated community on the Isle of Skye. Full of the kind of twee Scottishness now only manufactured for tourists, and with dialogue and subplots that are often unintentionally hilarious, it is nonetheless a dark tale with an unexpectedly powerful ending. It is now available in a crisply restored new edition that showcases its moody cinematography.

Patricia Roc is Mary, a foundling raised in a convent who goes to Skye to become the servant of an old man and his two grown sons. Constantly reminded that she should be grateful for the roof over her head, she is nevertheless frustrated by her situation, facing constant hard work, having to fend off the rapacious attention of local men and being blamed for continuing old clan feuds when she deigns to keep company with a stranger. She's no meek victim and has a strong sexuality of her own, but her real passion is for Fergus (Maxwell Reed), one of the brothers. He in turn seems to be struggling with conflicted sado-masochistic desires and a determination to do what others tell him is right. Unfortunately for Mary, one of the people he listens to is his brother, who wants her for himself.

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This is a proper pot-boiler of a melodrama, but it's given depth by its vivid setting and by the mingling into the story of old folk tales. There's a sense that this drama has been played out before and that those caught up in it are unable to escape their fate. Yet these mystical ideas are also subject to challenge. The local sea captain uses them playfully to try and bring Mary and Fergus together. The islanders look for insight to a madman who is believed to have second sight (hence the great line "We cannot convict a man on supernatural evidence alone"), yet we see him sneaking around at night eavesdropping on conversations; perhaps he's smart enough to know that he'll be given more credit if he claims to be divinely inspired. Mary, as an outsider, never quite gets it; in moments of desperation she reaches for logic, for reason, not comprehending its inferior power under these bright yet brooding skies.

The Brothers is a cruel tale, very much in the tone of the old stories, with moments of real brutality. It is also absurd, featuring, for instance, what is probably cinema's first ever death by goose. And although it carefully sidesteps anything explicit, it is much more suggestive than other films of the era, much more intensely sexual. Roc is the only really strong actor but she carries it well. The result is surprisingly gripping.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2011
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A young woman working as a servant on the Isle of Skye struggles with the consequences of male attention and is caught up in a doomed love affair.
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Director: David MacDonald

Writer: Muriel Box, based on the book by L.A.G. Strong

Starring: Patricia Roc, Finlay Currie, Maxwell Reed, Will Fyffe, Andrew Crawford, John Laurie

Year: 1947

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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