Sulphur and White (3 stars)

Sulphur and White

GFF 2020: The tragic story of David Tait becomes a well-acted and somewhat shocking drama

That a survivor of abuse can become a high-flyer in finance and elsewhere is not unexpected. What is unexpected is the level of abuse and how it is depicted in Sulphur and White. Susie Farrell's script turns the biography of mega-money trader and mountaineer David Tait into a sinister family mystery.

Starring Mark Stanley as the adult Tait, in his absolute ruthlessness he's shown to be virtually psychotic. Tait ruins his first marriage as he flings himself into the wreck of the next (to Emily Beecham's Vanessa). Directed by Julian Jarrold (A Royal Night Out, Brideshead Revisited), this tale of extremes chips away at the hard shell of its damaged protagonist, revealing a shocking secret from his childhood. As a boy, David's stringent father (Dougray Scott) and submissive if loving mother (Anna Friel) send him off to work at a local shop. They both ignore the signs of abuse as David returns from the job late, upset and acting out.

The title Sulphur and White refers to the moths that David watches outside the door, imagining himself as free as they are, as he is being raped by a number of men. Startling, poignant and evocative, it's a very tough watch but Jarrold's direction can be precise as he slowly unfolds the horror of David's situation. We may have seen him as a cold-hearted, marauding and unpleasant city trader, who has sex with his boss's wife, cheats on his own and can't tolerate his son, but we're privy to the story behind his struggles, as well as his credible salvation.

It doesn't exactly blend together as a coherent whole, but what Sulphur and White does best is to show the redemptive power of love. With Stanley flanked by the strong support of Beecham, Friel and Scott, this is a quiet, unusual story of horrendous, unthinkable acts and how they can be lived with, if not quite healed.

Screened on Fri 28 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2020. Selected release from Fri 6 Mar.

Sulphur and White

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • UK
  • Directed by: Julian Jarrold
  • Cast: Mark Stanley, Anna Friel, Dougray Scott, Emily Beecham

David Tait (Stanley) is a money trader and mountaineer who has a painful family secret. A true story of how the effects of horrendous abuse go on working well into adulthood, which unfolds into a quiet, unusual story about the redemptive power of love.