thu 05/12/2019

Gwen review - gothic horror set in north Wales | reviews, news & interviews

Gwen review - gothic horror set in north Wales

Gwen review - gothic horror set in north Wales

Period film underuses Maxine Peake and gives starring role to rainy Welsh hills instead

Bonnets at the ready: Maxine Peake leads her daughters into peril

This gothic yarn set in 1850s Snowdonia stars Maxine Peake as Elen. She’s left alone with two young daughters to manage an isolated farm when her husband goes off to war. Mysterious omens – a sheep’s heart filled with nails festoons the farm door – and ghostly shadows in the night all conspire to alarm her older daughter. Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) begins to doubt that her strict mother has the ability to keep her children safe, especially when Elen starts to have seizures. There’s no help from neighbours or the church and it becomes clear that the local slate mine owner is determined to buy the farm and will stop at nothing to drive out the family.

Filming in Wales in the dark winter months, cinematographer Adam Etherington has done a sterling job of creating a damp, gloomy landscape of louring clouds and threatening rocks. Oil-lamps cut through inky interiors and flaming torches play their role. Unfortunately atmospheric cinematography, impressive production design and a lovely selection of shawls don’t compensate for a thin script. The story-telling is so leisurely and the dialogue so sparse that the audience is left wondering where other relatives might be or why the local community is so hostile to the family. The villains are caricatures, practically twirling invisible moustaches as they torment the women.Writer-director William McGregor learnt his trade on Poldark and while he is excellent at conjuring up a sense of place, he overdoes the wuthering wind and ominous chords on the soundtrack. He seems uncertain whether he's making a ghostly folk tale, a social realist critique or a scary movie about women in peril showing resilience. Worthington-Cox (pictured above) is mainly called upon to look frightened but determined in an assortment of tightly-belted skirts.

Peake grows more haggard as the film progresses and demonstrates her lack of vanity admirably but she isn’t given enough of a backstory to explain her character’s behaviour. Gwen rarely shifts gear in terms of narrative pace and there’s no wit or surprises in the script; it doesn’t compare well with Lady Macbeth, which trod similar ground but with more ambiguities. Despite having one big jump scare, Gwen is just too heritage-industry tasteful to qualify as a satisfying horror film. 

@saskiabaron

Atmospheric cinematography, impressive production design and a lovely selection of shawls don’t compensate for a thin script

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters