starring Maxine Peake, Eleanor Worthington-Cox
written and directed by William McGregor
by Alice Stoehr The place is Wales. The time is the past. The subject is a penniless family of three. Mancunian actress Maxine Peake plays the sallow, unsmiling mother of two girls: little Mari (Jodie Innes) and teenage Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox). They live in a ramshackle farmhouse amid mossy boulders and fields of emerald grass. The sky tends to be thickly overcast; particles of soot get everywhere. Wind rasps the valley and pervades the sound design by Anna Bertmark, whose credits include You Were Never Really Here. The soundscape is much like that of Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse, another film about rural privation on an uncaring earth. Snow falls, thunder cracks, and the family's meagre assets dwindle. This is the starting point for Gwen, William McGregor's flinty debut feature. McGregor started in British television, with shows like "Misfits" and the period drama "Poldark", on both of which he collaborated with Gwen's cinematographer Adam Etherington. The two of them put tremendous discipline into the film's style, shooting across the Welsh countryside in early winter. They apply a rich visual lexicon to this desolate space: focus pulls, slow pans and zooms, reflections in sullied glass. Due to the era's lack of electricity, they favour backlighting, with pale sun penetrating the house's gloom. Night scenes rely on the unsteady and audible flames of candles or torches. It's a world of fog and fire and dirt.