The Road Dance (Music Box Films, NR)

When we first meet Kirsty Macleod (Felicity Keenan), she’s a little girl getting swimming lessons from her father. That those lessons take place in the cold waters surrounding the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland does not bother her at all—this is her world and she is absolutely delighted with it. Jump forward a decade or so and she’s a young woman (now played by Hermione Corfield) planting potatoes and shearing sheep on her family’s croft, still bound tightly to her environment and her family, but dreaming of a bigger life outside the confines of her small island village.

Kirsty has become quite the beauty and doesn’t lack for suitors, including the prosperous Iain Ban (Tom Byrne), whom her mother urges her to consider. But Kirsty only has eyes for the bookish Murdo (Will Fletcher), and they make plans to leave for America together. Then fate intervenes in the form of World War I, and the young men of the village are conscripted to serve in the British Amy. The village organizes the road dance of the title to give them a proper sendoff, and something happens that night that changes everything.

The event in question takes place in the first third of the film, so it’s not a spoiler to say that what happens is that Kirstie is knocked unconscious and raped by an assailant whose face we do not see. The rest of the film is occupied with working out what actually happened that night, while also revealing the true character of many of the village folk (in ways that reveal attitudes still among us today). The most interesting storytelling comes in this part of the movie, as people don’t always behave the way their previous actions would suggest.

Director Richie Adams is best known as the title designer for films like Amsterdam, Creed, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, and his strong visual sense is the best thing about The Road Dance. Veteran cinematographer Petra Korner’s location shooting captures the stunning beauty of Lewis while also communicating how an isolated community can be at the same time be close-knit and claustrophobic. The music by Carlos José Alvarez, which features the Lewis fiddler Alasdair White, is a perfect match to the story and the cinematography.

The weak point of The Road Dance is the screenplay by Adams, which he adapted from a novel by John MacKay. I don’t know the source material, but the treatment it received in this film is content to stay on the surface of its characters. The result is that we never really get to know any of them, even Christie, which is a real missed opportunity.

The Road Dance is a melodrama, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A film that uses a melodramatic story as a means to explore characters and their interactions can be great, while a film that concentrates on portraying events and actions is necessarily limited in what it can do. Unfortunately, the screenplay of The Road Dance does more of the latter and less of the former, with the result that it doesn’t do justice to either the characters or the story. Fortunately, committed acting performances, particularly by the primary trio of Corfield, Morven Christie, and Ali Fumiko Whitney (the latter as Kirsty’s mother and sister), elevate this film far beyond what the rather mundane scripting gives them to work with.  

The Road Dance was selected for a number of international film festivals and won some impressive awards, including the Audience Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. | Sarah Boslaugh

The Road Dance is available for streaming on all major platforms, including Apple TV+, Prime Video, Google Play, and Vudu, beginning Oct. 13.

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