The Road Dance – movie review

The bleak melodrama The Road Dance is set against the backdrop of a tight-knit crofting community on the storm-lashed island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 1916. It’s based on the bestselling 2002 novel of the same name written by Sky TV journalist John MacKay, and the events of the book were supposedly inspired by a true incident of Scottish lore. The novel has been adapted to the screen by director Richie Adams, a former designer of credits and title sequences for films like Amsterdam, making his directorial debut here.

Kirsty Macleod (Hermione Corfield) wants more out of life than her small rustic village can offer, and she dreams of eventually making her way to America with her boyfriend, the sensitive Murdo Macauley (Will Fletcher, in his feature film debut), who shares her interest in literature and poetry. Kirsty is a kindly person who often delivers food supplies to the local eccentric recluse Skipper (Jeff Stewart).

But fate intervenes when four local lads, including Murdo, are conscripted into the army and sent off to fight in the battlefields of France. Kirsty is heartbroken but promises to write to Murdo every day. The night before the lads leave the villagers hold a road dance party, full of music, drink and good cheer. But during the night, Kirsty is attacked and brutally raped. She remains silent about the incident, keeping the attack secret until her pregnancy becomes obvious.

Then she receives word that Murdo has been killed in action and is devastated. She has to make some tough choices. This leads to a chain of tragic events. Only the town’s sympathetic doctor Dr MacLean (Mark Gattis) seems to understand Kirsty’s dilemma, and is supportive; especially when the local constable McRae (Ian Pirie) begins probing. We become emotionally invested in Kirsty’s journey.

The film deals with some important themes though including family, loss and grief, community, the futility of war, and justice, and the role of women in the early years of the 20th Century especially in a patriarchal society like Lewis. Adams’ approach to the material is unsentimental, and he handles the crucial rape sequence tastefully.

The Road Dance has been beautifully shot in widescreen by Petra Korner (The Wackness), who captures the harsh beauty of the setting, and the film deserves to be seen on the big screen. Korner also uses lots of natural lighting which adds to the bleak feel of the material. Carlos Jose Alvarez’s evocative score draws heavily on Scottish influences, although he eschews the use of bagpipes, and it is often quite haunting.

Adams draws good performances from his cast. Corfield, who has had small roles in films like Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Last Jedi, makes the most of her biggest role to date and she brings a mix of strength, resolve and vulnerability to her performance. She seems set for a big future as a dramatic actress. She and Fletcher develop a good chemistry in their few shared scenes. Marvern Christie brings strength and intelligence and empathy to her role as Kirsty’s mother, while Ali Fumiko Whitney is solid as Kirsty’s younger sister Annie.

The Road Dance is somewhat old-fashioned and melodramatic weepie, and could have been made during the 40s or 50s when this kind of film was popular. The Road Dance is let down slightly by a contrived happy ending which requires a significant suspension of disbelief.

Greg King

Other reviews you might enjoy: