DIR: Corinna McFarlane • WRI: Corinna McFarlane • PRO: Nicky Bentham • DOP: Ed Rutherford • ED: Kate Baird • MUS: Alastair Caplin • DES: Matthew Button • CAST: Damian Lewis, Andrea Riseborough, Ross Anderson
Corinna McFarlane’s The Silent Storm sees a staggering departure from her quirky 2008 comic documentary, Three Miles North of Molkom. While the latter promotes a sanguine New Age agenda, her feature debut wanders an intensely dark and sullen milieu, far removed from the optimistic, soul-stirring Swedish adult playground, depicted in her critically acclaimed documentary. Her father’s traumatic illness prompted the director to reconnect with her Scottish roots and explore more pessimistic narratives, therefore, The Silent Storm has provided McFarlane with a platform to unload her own personal burden, while delineating a fresh perspective on tensions within human relationships, rooted to a particular place.
Well respected yet feared minister, Balor (Damian Lewis) and his ethereal wife, Aislin (Andrea Riseborough), live on a remote Scottish island. Economic catastrophe has gripped the community, forcing most of its inhabitants to the mainland. As the last few people remaining, this isolation heightens incendiary relations between the couple. Balor’s stifling disposition and unyielding religious pomposity stand in complete opposition to Aislin’s tenderness, who is marginalized for her disavowal of religious and social expectation. After a violent row erupts between them, a mysterious, young delinquent, Fionn (Ross Anderson) arrives at the house, to be rehabilitated for a petty crime. While Balor attends to religious duties on the mainland, Aislin finds herself hypnotized by Fionn and the outsiders enjoy an unfamiliar freedom and a shared connection to the island. When Balor returns home, he senses a change in his subdued wife and determines to find out what has occurred in his absence.
While the Scottish landscape has never looked more enticing, sadly, majestic mountains and sweeping seascapes cannot plaster over the uncomfortable cracks in McFarlane’s feature debut. Indeed, the director appears so overwhelmed at hands of her own unsatisfactory, self-penned script; her directorial misjudgments permeate all aspects of the film’s narrative and performances, resulting in an overall unmitigated disaster. Given the director’s desire to explore a specific time and space which has contemporary relevance, the film’s era is difficult to pinpoint, although it is inferred it is set in an unspecified post-war location, forgotten by time and suffocated by hardship, introducing an unnecessary ambiguity that contributes nothing to the story.
The relentlessly gloomy, oppressive tone, intended to intensify Aislin’s persecution, fails to elicit the intended empathy or sympathy. The director’s misplaced, overly melodramatic style, greatly mimicked by the actors, merely invites ridicule at the performances, which are too manic, too wild and too theatrical and certainly do not camouflage McFarlane’s heavily clichéd script, which makes no discernible point about relationships, economic hardship or Scotland itself. The arrival of a young kindred spirit to disrupt existing tensions walks on tiresome familiar territory and the plot trundles along in such formulaic fashion, when all pulled together, The Silent Storm becomes a disappointing, yawningly empty and badly crafted piece of filmmaking and the only real antagonism created is between the film and the unfortunate viewer.
Damian Lewis is undoubtedly regretting his involvement in the film (which was made over two years ago and unsurprisingly, suffered from subsequent distribution woes) and it is difficult to correlate this performance with Lewis’ renowned film and television work. As the relentlessly abusive megalomaniac minister, his excessive performance, armed with an irritatingly, dubious Scottish accent is simply tedious and repetitive, reaching far beyond the point of caricature and devoid of any penetrative insight into the deepest corners of his character’s mind. There are some tender, understated moments between Riseborough and Anderson, providing much needed relief from Lewis’ draconian fits but alas, such emotional resonance is short-lived and their relationship becomes a mere apathetic afterthought, in favour of more antagonistic ramblings from Lewis.
But the finger of blame must be firmly pointed at the writer/director, McFarlane, who has produced an astoundingly banal, paint-by-numbers effort, which clearly lacks a distinct, subjective voice. Devoid of subtext, suspense, intrigue or ambition, the script, at times, appears to dumbfound even the director herself. Every weary cliché, patched up by every technical trick in the book is thrown at the story with very little narrative return, only serving to embarrass and heighten the director’s ill-judgment. McFarlane has admitted to being motivated by a type of storytelling that gets under her audiences’ skins, leaving them feeling intoxicated. The Silent Storm does indeed leave the viewer intoxicated, but for all the wrong reasons.
McFarlane’s inexperience glares out at every opportunity throughout the course of her intolerable narrative. Her failure to inject any new creativity into a hastily penned, hackneyed story, peppered with inexplicable melodramatic expression, smacks of a sheer lack of confidence in her abilities as a feature film director and screenwriter. Unfortunately for the performers, the director’s mistakes are far too substantial to overcome and it is the actors who suffer the most. There has been an eight-year gap between McFarlane’s last documentary and The Silent Storm. If she is to reap the same critical success her documentary garnered, her commitment to storytelling and technique needs serious reconsideration. Perhaps then, her audience and actors can reach the levels of intoxication she so desperately seeks, for all the right reasons.
16 (See IFCO for details)
The Silent Storm is released 20th May 2016