The Scottish drama The Road Dance, based on a novel by John MacKay, is set in the wild, craggy cliffs of the Outer Hebrides islands at the beginning of World War I. Young Kirsty (Hermione Corfield) loves her home and family but has always wished for more than a quiet village life. Her ambitions were nurtured by her father, who taught Kristy to be strong and independent. But since his untimely death, she’s struggled to find the means to leave Scotland and see the world. Her town does have a few upsides, though, such as her burgeoning romance with Murdo (Will Fletcher).
Unfortunately, it’s cut short when all the young men are pressed into service to go and fight for Britain in the war. So the town organizes a Cèilidh (party) in the village thoroughfare to see them off, their sorrows and fears forgotten for a moment in music brightly played and rounds of the famous Scotch Whiskey. That night, events play out that destroy the dreams of Kirsty and Murdo, putting a traumatic burden on her.
“…events play out that destroy the dreams of Kirsty and Murdo…”
Writer-director Richie Adams has beautifully translated MacKay’s book into a cinematic journey of young love during wartime and the reversals of fortune that lead to tragedy. Kirsty is a dreamer constantly looking to the sea beyond the dramatic Scottish landscape. She planned a great adventure with Murdo, but everything is on hold because of the war, and now she thinks her life is ruined. The heavy lifting throughout The Road Dance falls to Corfield, who delivers a powerful performance. A strong ensemble supports her, and fans of Sherlock will recognize Mark Gatiss as the village Doctor.
The film is pure drama, a downbeat tale of quiet desperation and perseverance in the face of troubled times. Kirsty’s support from her father gives her the fortitude to manage the grief of her situation. Of course, in this time and place, women carried the weight of an oppressive patriarchy, limiting the choices for Kirsty. The small town farm culture she’s from heavily hampers her prospects as well, but the people living in the Outer Hebrides are as tough and hard as the weather that ceaselessly pounds the cliffs. When it comes to drama from this part of the world, the British take is well known, but smaller regions tend to get shortchanged, and this is a welcome addition for that reason. While it is Britbox material, to be sure, coming from Scotland makes for a lovely change of pace.
Adams commented about his motivation for making the film in a conversation with The Scotsman, “…MacKay’s novel is a wonderful story. I initially fell in love with the characters and the idyllic setting, the young love juxtaposed with war-torn times. Being an American, the setting, the terrain, everything was so foreign to anything I’ve seen, and I was immediately captivated.” The quiet pace of The Road Dance, along with the ebbs and flows of the events around the characters, give it an authenticity and space to feel the impact. You may be captivated just as the filmmaker and I were.
The Road Dance screened at the 2022 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
"…Corfield...delivers a powerful performance."