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Iona (15)*

Starring: Douglas Henshall aand Ruth Negga
Director: Scott Graham
Production: Verve Pictures (film opens 25 March 2016)

This award-nominated drama stars Douglas Henshall (Daniel) of BBC crime series Shetland and acclaimed TV, theatre and movie performer Ruth Negga (Iona), and Scott Graham's tense tale of faith and family trauma is undeniably well acted.

Beautifully shot, there is a brooding quality about the cinematography and the story builds slowly as we begin to piece together the narrative about Iona and her son Bull, fleeing the Scottish mainland to return to the island of her birth, and the close Christian community she was born into.

The fantastic scenery, the slow pace of island life and the gradual way the action builds does draw you in. But … I found myself wanting more from the characters. For any gritty relationship-based drama to work, you have to care about the characters and what happens to them. I struggled to identify with this bunch.

You sense there is a genuine community there, but everyone seems to have a secret skeleton in the cupboard. So the snatches of worship in church suggest an outward show of faith, where the flawed lives and tangled relationships exposed in the subsequent action question how genuinely this faith is lived.

Without revealing too much of the plot, it's a story where hope and redemption are in short supply, and the ending is pretty bleak. There was the opportunity here to ask real questions about faith, God, family and community and for me none of the characters was explored deeply enough to tease these out.

Pity really, it looked great and the performances were strong, particularly newcomers Ben Gallagher (Bull) and Sorcha Groundsell (Sarah).

Russ Bravo

* some strong language and sexual content.

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