Iona (15) | Close-Up Film Review


Dir. Scott Graham, UK, 2015, 85 mins

Cast: Douglas Henshaw, Ruth Negga, Sorcha Groundsell

This is a well-intended, second full-feature from Scott Graham that runs out of ideas after a promising, careful set-up.

Iona (Negga) and her son Billy, also known as Bull (Ben Gallagher) return to the island of her birth. As events unfold, with the assistance of a few flashbacks, we learn why they are fleeing from the mainland. The simmering unknowns behind both Iona’s departure from the island as a teenager and the reasons for her return are the centrepiece for the action that follows.

Iona is mysteriously loath to return, despite an almost resoundingly warm reception when she does so. She and Billy stay in the spare room of her friend’s father, David (Henshaw). Billeted in her old room, it’s only a matter of time before the past catches up with her.

As Iona struggles to cope with a frosty relationship with old friend Elizabeth (Michelle Duncan), her son establishes an awkward friendship with Elizabeth’s daughter, Sarah (Groundsell) who is unable to walk and must be carried by her father Matthew (Tom Brooke).

It’s a story of a tight-knit, isolated community and the brooding relationships that exist within a group of people that must live and work together constantly. No secrets are going to stay hidden here. Douglas Henshaw’s continued role as a resident of Scottish satellite islands following his position in the TV series Shetland, makes him a familiar and convincing face. Ruth Negga is hard to pin down as her character vacillates from depression in a scene of her washing in the bath to elation when she attends the communal ceilidh. She is sullen, hating every moment she remains on the eponymous rock and hostile towards everyone at some point, even Billy. Negga and Brooke will appear together later in the year in AMC’s Preacher, a religious fantasy epic.

It slowly becomes Billy’s story however. His nightmares prove he is suffering mentally for an act of physical violence, which he regrets – as we see in flashback. The pervading religiosity of Iona starts to draw him in and it could perhaps prove to salve his conscience, much to Iona’s chagrin. He also spends more time with Sarah, who leads him on from the first encounter at the collective strawberry picking. As seen in the trailer, she slides his hand up her leg to show him the paralysis she suffers. Trips out on Billy’s back culminate in a tumble in a hayloft, with two very bizarre consequences.

Once Billy has confessed his sin to Sarah’s father, the appropriately named Matthew, it’s all downhill from there. The idea that he is seeking the father figure that he has lacked during his life on the mainland is a compelling one.

Unfortunately, the narrative runs out of steam after a rapt first hour. There are genuine twists, omitted here – if they weren’t there would really be no point seeing it at all. The acting is completely believable but the cast are let down by the storyline. This could have been cut short at 75 minutes, left on a cliffhanger and would have left the audience with plenty to mull over and deduce for themselves. Instead it runs into a dead end.

Review by George Meixner