EIFF 2015: Scott Graham's second film is a beautiful but messy island-set drama
In the past, director Scott Graham has said that he wants his films to feel like listening to the music of Bon Iver. Iona, his second feature, certainly captures something of that band's lyrical beauty. There’s a serenity to the way Graham depicts the landscape of the titular Hebridean isle, and it’s a distinct counterweight to the turbulent story the film tells.
After a sudden and brutal crime, Iona (Ruth Negga) and her son Bull (Ben Gallagher) flee Glasgow and seek shelter on the island of her birth, that's also her namesake. She reunites with Daniel (Douglas Henshall) and his daughter Elizabeth (Michelle Duncan), who she lived with as a teenager; but the tension between the trio suggests a past, unspoken scandal.
As in Graham’s debut feature, Shell, Iona features very little dialogue and no soundtrack. So the two bursts of music that we do hear – one at a ceilidh, the other a particularly ethereal church choir – act as sharp, sensory shocks amongst the quiet, unsettled atmosphere the film cultivates so vividly.
Negga is captivating in the lead role, and she’s wonderfully complemented by an excellent supporting cast; Sorcha Groundsell is particularly heartbreaking as Elizabeth's daughter Sarah, who’s lost the use of her legs. But they’re let down by a story that begins weakly and culminates in melodrama, though what comes in-between occasionally sparkles.
Still, it’s a beautiful film to watch and confirms its director as a Scottish filmmaker to continue to look out for. This isn’t the Iona of tourist brochures; it’s an island where people live, love, pray and grieve – and the characters here shine brightly.
Screened on Sun 28 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015. General release TBC.