We have here a new director to note but whose writing skills are questionable.


Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen


The rating above may look harsh yet in point of fact I feel it to be generous. That's because Gwen is a mess, but it is an interesting one that involves some promising new talent. Its setting is appealing too. There have been several film dramas in recent years that have made use of rural locations around Britain, but here the tale which takes place in Snowdonia is a period story from the 19th century and that makes it something of a cinematic novelty. It is in any case an area hardly ever seen on screen and Adam Etherington's splendid photography in colour and 'Scope makes fine use of it. As for the drama that plays out in front of it, that concerns a farming family which, with the father gone to war, consists of the mother, Elen (Maxine Peake), and her  two daughters, the adolescent Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and her younger sister Mari (Jodie Innes).


Gwen is a first feature by William McGregor whose direction shows real skill and an eye for compositions. Furthermore, he works well with his players obtaining a convincing portrayal from Worthington-Cox, a relative newcomer although she started out as a child actress. She may not be in the class of Liv Hill, Florence Pugh and Jessie Buckley (remarkable actresses all) but she shows considerable promise. In contrast, that fine player Maxine Peake is not well served here - but that brings us to the film's downside which confirms all too clearly that McGregor is less talented as a writer.


Gwen is a work that tries to pack in a great deal having at least three central plot threads. As a family tale presented naturalistically, it pivots on the fact that Elen has a secret which she is hiding from the children. The other two elements feature in contrast tropes from tales of threat and from horror cinema, albeit not played at full throttle (indeed the one   moment of actual shock horror doesn't feel justified). What emerges is on the one hand a tale centred on a kind of haunting by a dead spirit and on the other a work of social comment as we view a community going to any length to support for financial gain an industrial development which will destroy the beauty of the area.


Although the film starts out with comparative restraint, all three storylines reach a climax together which takes the movie well over the top. That was always a risk with this material, but the ultimate failure of Gwen really comes from writing that is far too sketchy, omitting the details which would bring the situation to life: what we get instead is generalised and vague and leaves one asking questions which should have been answered. While Gwen is a central figure, there is no reason to select her name for the film's title which could just as readily have been Elen. That's a small point, yet one which further confirms that McGregor's directorial abilities far outshine his writing skills. But as a filmmaker he could be a man to watch.




Cast: Maxine Peake, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Richard Harrington, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Jodie Innes, Mark Lewis Jones, Richard Elfyn, Dyfrig Evans, Gwion Glyn.


Dir William McGregor, Pro Tom Nash and Hilary Bevan Jones, Screenplay William McGregor, Ph Adam Etherington, Pro Des Laura Ellis Cricks, Ed Mark Towns, Music James Edward Barker, Costumes Dinah Collin.


BFI/Film Cymru Wales/Great Point Media/Bideford Productions/an Endor film-Bulldog Film Distribution.
84 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 19 July 2019. Cert. 15.