Dark River

Stop me if you’ve herd this one: a woman returns to the family farm following the death of a relative and tries to save the farm while haunted by the past. It’s essentially last year’s The Levelling but set in Yorkshire instead of Somerset, and with sheep instead of cows.

These bleak farming films (let’s call them “bleat movies”) reject the idyllic rural depictions of British exports like Tamara Drewe, and instead reflect the alarming reality of suicide, alcoholism and poverty rates among farming communities. Based on this trend, next year’s Shaun the Sheep sequel should be interesting.

This latest entry in the mud-and-misery sub-genre takes its name from a line in a Ted Hughes poem, and sets a new record for how quickly Sean Bean dies. The drama follows his children (Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley) as they fight over tenancy of their abusive father’s farm.

Dark River is more intense and atmospheric than The Levelling, with a much better title. Writer/director Clio Bernard (The Selfish Giant) describes the film as “a folk tale about the exploitation of a woman’s body and the land”, and the landscape plays as crucial a role as Wilson herself.

The dramatic photography and sparse dialogue create an atmosphere as uncompromising as the Yorkshire dialect. The result is a doomy yet meaningful cut of British realism, with a pair of great performances at its core and a rabbit disembowelling sequence to make even Andrea Arnold squirm.

Mainstream audiences won’t flock to see this wellies-and-woe picture, but for masochists or fans of The Archers (and that Venn diagram is a circle) ewe’d be maaaad to miss it.

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