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Review: Ruth Wilson stars in powerful British drama ‘Dark River’

Ruth Wilson in the film “Dark River.” Credit: FilmRise
Ruth Wilson in the movie “Dark River.”
(FilmRise)

“Dark River” is a forgettable title for a movie that’s anything but. This powerfully told and performed British import, from writer-director Clio Barnard (based on the novel by Rose Tremain), proves one of the year’s most impressive dramas.

With narrative traces of such movies as “A Thousand Acres” and the more recent “Back to Burgundy,” the film finds itinerant sheep-shearer Alice (Ruth Wilson of Showtime’s “The Affair”) returning to her Yorkshire family farm following the death of her father (Sean Bean). Her goal: to reclaim the lease on the land her dad once promised her.

But Alice is immediately thwarted by her hostile and resentful older brother, Joe (Mark Stanley), who’s been tending the rundown sheep farm — and their sick father — in his sister’s long, incommunicado absence. Although Alice wants to work the land with Joe, he’s deeply resistant.

As we soon learn, however, via effective (and well-cast) flashbacks and elliptical discussion, there’s much more at play here: the childhood sexual abuse of Alice at the hands of her father that’s forever haunted and divided the damaged siblings.

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Barnard vividly captures the vast and stirring Northern England countryside, the area’s tightly knit if wary farming community, and the fiscal and practical mechanics of raising — and, yes, even dipping — sheep.

But it’s the superbly acted interplay between the embattled Alice and Joe that drives this lean, gripping, often profoundly tragic tale.

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‘Dark River’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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