Iona, film review: Reflective British drama doesn't rely on conventions

(15) Scott Graham, 83 mins. Starring: Ruth Negga, Tom Brooke, Douglas Henshall, Jim Sturgeon

Geoffrey Macnab
Friday 25 March 2016 01:04 GMT
Ruth Negga gets back into the swing of island life in ‘Iona’
Ruth Negga gets back into the swing of island life in ‘Iona’

Iona is a lyrical, reflective drama that owes an obvious debt to the film-making of Andrei Tarkovsky and Carl Dreyer. That is both what makes it so refreshing and sometimes so frustrating. It's a lowish-budget British drama that doesn't rely on social realist conventions. Dialogue is kept to a minimum. Plot details are only very gradually revealed. Iona is both the name of the main character (played by Ruth Negga) and the Scottish island on which the film is set. Iona and her troubled teenage son, Bull, are heading there. She left the island many years before.

There has been a traumatic incident on the mainland (referred to in oblique flashbacks.) Early on, we are not sure why she is returning – or, indeed, why she left in the first place. Graham's shooting style is poetic but enigmatic. There are constant close-ups of Iona herself but it is very hard to fathom what she is thinking or what exactly her relationship is with the crofter, Daniel (Henshall).

Graham makes excellent use of the Hebridean landscapes. He pays close attention to the part religion plays in the island's life and deals very sensitively with the courtship between Bull and a beautiful young girl (Sorcha Groundsell) who can't walk. In a Tarkovsky or as Dreyer film, though, the mysticism would have been pushed further. There would have been some miraculous happening – some attempt at transcendence. Graham, by contrast, is a little too reticent. The more we learn about the characters, the less mysterious and magical they become.

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