On the festival circuit, audience awards are a tricky business; I’ve stood and watched in astonishment as a film director brazenly stuffed their own hand-written ballots into ballot-boxes to ensure they won some kind of trophy. But it’s easy to see why writer/director Richie Adams carried off the audience award on merit at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival; it’s an old-fashioned Scottish drama about a remote Hebridean community that should appeal to those who seek a blast of period intrigue in a Grassic Gibbon style
Based on a novel by Scottish television newsreader and journalist John Mackay, The Road Dance is set during World War One, and centres on Kirsty Macleod (Hermione Corfield), a young woman who has been encouraged to imagine local boy Iain Ban (Tom Byrne) as a potential suitor. But Kirsty has eyes for Murdo MacAuley (Will Fletcher), who shares her love of literature, but both men are called away to fight overseas in a devastating blow to the community. A road dance is organised to say goodbye to the soldiers, but Kirsty is attacked later the same night…
A handsome production, The Road Dance does well with the isolated feel of the community, and the story moves with the clip of a novel adaptation; this narrative plays out more like a murder mystery than a coming of age drama, and it works better than the recent Sunset Song adaptation. But not all the details convince; surely the most blithe parent, having seen their son go off to war, shouldn’t be enthused when an unexpected telegram arrives on their doorstep. This community is supposed to be sheltered, but it’s hard to imagine anyone so free of expectation. The use of rape as a key plot point needs very careful handling, and it similarly stretches credulity that Kirsty and her community seem so naïve about potential dangers; it’s also requires trigger warnings that while Adams’ depiction of the attack is handled with care, brief fragments of the assault are then edited into the remainder of the story.
Generally well acted and produced, The Road Dance will play well to those who are bought in to the adult nature of the story; there’s plenty of post-watershed tv dramas that cover this kind of material in unsentimental style. If you can handle the subject, then The Road Dance has enough good acting and narrative energy to make for a fairly gripping entertainment, even if the uncovering of the assailant doesn’t quite providing a satisying resolution to the problems that poor Kirsty has to face.