Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Ruth Negga as Iona
"Director Graham is fantastic at allowing the underlying relational strain to simmer for most of the film, in quiet, unspoken Scots Calvinist passive-aggression."

Iona, writer-director Scott Graham's follow up to his critically acclaimed debut Shell, exists in a similar world of unspeakable desires and muted melodrama, and is fraught with emotional tension throughout. The eponymous Iona (Ruth Negga) flees Glasgow after a traumatic event, which opens the film in rather shocking fashion, to return to her Scottish island home and old relationships which were perhaps better left forgotten.

As with Shell, the Scottish rural scenery here is brutal and foreboding, though beautifully photographed. The island itself acts as a prison from which there is quite literally no escape save the uncaring sea. Iona is thought to be the landing point for Columba, who introduced Christianity to the Scots and Picts from Ireland, and the religious adherence still practised by the island's inhabitants in the film acts, with the aforementioned geography of the island, as another claustrophobic blanket to smother Iona and her teenage son Bull (Ben Gallacher).

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Iona returns to seek solace with Daniel (Douglas Henshell), who had cared for her alongside his own daughter Elizabeth (Michelle Duncan) after Iona's mother had died. Elizabeth has moved into Iona's mother's old home with her husband Matthew (Tom Brooke) and teenage daughter Sarah (Sorcha Groundsell). An immediate tension is apparent when Iona hears this news, saying that she's moved in to their old room in Daniel's home, or does Elizabeth want that as well?

Director Graham is fantastic at allowing this underlying relational strain to simmer for most of the film, in quiet, unspoken Scots Calvinist passive-aggression. A scene involving a ceilidh makes these apparent, as Elizabeth burls Iona round with just a little too much enthusiasm, leaving Iona spinning and flustered. Bull escapes the ceilidh with Sarah, carrying her on his back for she cannot walk after an accident some years previous, and on their return is met with unbridled hostility from Elizabeth. Iona's assurance that Bull is a good boy is met with a stare that implies that would be unlikely given the character of his mother.

The very few weaknesses that the film has perhaps come as these underlying secrets come to the surface, and several hugely dramatic revelations and events threaten to topple over the studied disquiet which the film has worked hard to build up. That aside, Iona is another exemplary film from a visionary young filmmaker, working with a terrific cast whose affecting performances play a large part in wrapping the audience up in its sensitivities.

Reviewed on: 28 Jun 2015
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A woman and her teenage son return to the place she was born to seek refuge from a violent gang.
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Director: Scott Graham

Writer: Scott Graham

Starring: Ruth Negga, Douglas Henshall, Tom Brooke, Michelle Duncan, Jim Sturgeon, Matthew Zajac, Ben Gallagher, Sorcha Groundsell

Year: 2015

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2015
SSFF 2015

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