Director: Scott Graham
Starring: Ruth Negga, Tom Brooke, Michelle Duncan, Ben Gallagher
Running time: 110 min
After twelve days, 134 new feature films, spread across ten different venues in Scotland’s capital, the Edinburgh International Film Festival comes to a close with the world premiere of Scott Graham’s latest film, Iona. It’s a million miles away from the picture that opened the festival, The Legend of Barney Thomson; trading a stylish Glasgow based neo-noir for a quieter piece based on the remote Isle of Iona. While completely different in tone, Iona still showcases a plethora of fine Scottish talent, and an up-and-coming film-maker with a world of potential.
Opening with two savage acts of violence, Graham then makes the audacious decision to have an almost dialogue free opening twenty minutes. In that time we meet our titular character, played with strained resolve by Ruth Negga, and her teenage son Bull (newcomer Ben Gallagher). Thanks to the intricate camera placement in these uncomfortable moments we become witness, accomplice and then travelling companion to the duo as they uproot their domestic, urban life and relocate to the Inner Hebrides.
It is a journey of necessity for Iona. Protecting her son, it also becomes a chance to confront the past she has retreated from for so long. The peaceful, seemingly idyllic community offers her a haven from the outside world, but at the cost of facing some painful home truths. It also proves to be a right of passage for young Bull, wrought with a guilty conscience and terrorised by nightmares, he becomes distant from his mother who has sacrificed so much for him, embracing the religious nature of the island in hope for salvation.
Well shot throughout -the isle is filmed with an autumnal glow to showcase it’s beauty- it is sadly troubled with uneven pacing and an irritating habit of signposting the revelations in the later stages. The repeated airing of dirty laundry almost drags the project into soap opera territory, albeit a hyper-stylish one. In it’s quieter moments though it is a powerful film, with strong lead performances from Negga and Gallagher, along with a fine supporting cast, including Douglas Hensall, Tom Brooke and Michelle Duncan. It is a noble effort, just about worthy of closing the world renowned festival.