The Silent Storm

 

starstarstar

 


On a remote Scottish island, the lives of a self-righteous minister and his persecuted wife 

are dramatically changed by the arrival of a troubled young man.

 

Silent Storm, The

 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that The Silent Storm was adapted from a Gothic romantic novel. It was, in fact, born from the writer-director Corinna McFarlane’s love of Celtic mythology and Jungian psychology and a desire to re-connect with her Scottish roots. Damian Lewis is executive producer and certainly makes the most of the opportunity to expand his thespian sweep. He plays Balor McNeal, the minister of a remote Scottish island some time after the Second World War. He is an authoritarian, a self-righteous and pompous man in thrall to the power of God. And as his flock diminishes, along with his influence, he becomes more distant and brutal to his wife, the nature-loving and hard-working Aislin (Andrea Riseborough). For her, God is represented in the wild beauty around them, in the plants and animals she tends to, and has learned to draw on the magical properties of the herbs she knows so well. For Balor, his succour is in the Scriptures and he will not have his judgement questioned. From the pulpit he resorts to fire and brimstone and on the domestic battlefield his fists. Then, in the midst of a ferocious assault on his wife, a car pulls up outside the ministry. The director of a charity (John Sessions) has turned up to deliver a troubled young man in his care, Fionn (Ross Anderson), for whom he hopes Balor will assist in his spiritual guidance...

 

Some might find this all a little ripe, and maybe a tad melodramatic at times, but the film does exert a singular spell. The windswept coastline recalls the domain of a Brontë or even the grandeur of David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter. Andrea Riseborough, who seems drawn to such minimal, stark dramas (think Resistance, Never Let Me Go) blends into the landscape with painterly skill, although her accent is at odds with her co-stars. But then Aislin is an enigma, a woman without a past who was rescued by her husband and remains indebted to him. And therein lies her crisis. Riseborough, who can slip in and out of accents with ease, has alighted on a Germanic inflection, which nicely counterpoints the savage staccato of Lewis’s Celtic burr. Lewis himself, so familiar in more restrained, heroic roles, might be accused of devouring the scenery so beloved of Aislin. But it helps that his outlandish demeanour is parodied by Fionn, thus positioning the audience in the same camp as the storyteller.

 

Corinna McFarlane certainly exhibits a cinematic grip on her material, guiding her narrative subtly through its dramatic changes. Riseborough is terrific, and Ross Anderson sympathetic, while Ed Rutherford’s cinematography is surely unforgettable. It might have been to McFarlane’s advantage not to have cast such a well-known actor as Lewis in such a frenzied part, as Balor’s extremes could lead to unintentional laughter. It is, nonetheless, a striking feature debut and a quite unusual film.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Damian Lewis, Ross Anderson, Kate Dickie, Derek Riddell, John Sessions.

 

Dir Corinna McFarlane, Pro Nicky Bentham, Ex Pro Barbara Broccoli, Damian Lewis and Michael G. Wilson, Screenplay Corinna McFarlane, Ph Ed Rutherford, Pro Des Matthew Button, Ed Kate Baird, Music Alastair Caplin, Costumes Sharon Long.

 

Neon Films/Cacti Films/British Film Company/Corniche Pictures/EON Productions/Red & Black Films-Sony Pictures. 

102 mins. UK. 2014. Rel: 20 May 2016. Cert. 15.