Director: William McGregor
Screenwriter: William McGregor
Starring: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Maxine Peake, Richard Harrington, Jodi Innes
Set in the years of the Industrial Revolution in the mountains of Snowdonia, Gwen is an eerily dark gothic piece which follows the titular Gwen and the darkness that comes to her home when the living her family earns from the land comes under threat. Moody, tense and visually stunning, Gwen is a dark delight that holds back no punches and speaks of some cold, hard truths in the world.
This William McGregor written and directed venture is hard to categorise, in that although it’s fairly close to being a folk horror film (certainly there are lots of those elements in the film), those expecting an all out horror-fest are maybe going to come away disappointed. It’s dark and grim, and focuses on bleak and harrowing topics, but it wouldn’t instantly come to mind over films such as Halloween or even The Wicker Man or The Witch. It’s not that kind of horror. It’s a slow burner of a film that takes its time and isn’t afraid or ashamed to do so.
That having been said, Gwen is a deeply unsettling film. The director himself confessed an influence of Ingmar Bergman on the film’s direction, looking for ways to create a sense of dread without the typical shocks – holding a shot for just a little too long, making sure a shot is slightly unbalanced – and it truly is a master class in building fear in slow, subtle ways. Combined with the great wide shots of the mountains of north Wales, with the bleak grey slates slick with rain and driving mist, Gwen has an atmosphere unique to most smaller productions.
The film is also unmistakably Welsh. From the chapels to the themes of English colonialism and capitalism, it is a film that cannot be easily translated to another country without something being lost. Often you’ll find films that could happen in any country without much deviation, but Gwen is a Welsh film in every sense of the word. This offers a unique identity that adds to the particular flavour of the film that should not be overlooked.
The acting is additionally wonderful, especially the performances from Maxine Peake and Eleanor Worthington-Cox. Their interplay as mother and daughter really forms the emotional heart of Gwen, the two women growing to understand one another as they overcome their trials and difficulties, their core relationship persevering through the literal and metaphorical storms of the world. Despite all of the socialist, folkloric, and anti-patriarchal elements, it is the dynamic between Cox’s Gwen and her mother which makes the piece such a powerful, memorable experience.
The film isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s bleak, bordering on depressing. But, if you want to search out something moody and atmospheric which isn’t a product of the over-sanitisation of the larger film studios, you should look no further than this wonderful picture.
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