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Sunday, 20 October 2013

A fairy tale within a fairy tale

A rating and review of For Those in Peril (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

20 October

91 = S : 15 / A : 16 / C : 16 / M : 15 / P : 14 / F : 15

A rating and review of For Those in Peril (2013)

S = script
A = acting
C = cinematography
M = music
P = pacing
F = feel

Mid-point of scale (all scores out of 17) = 9

For Those in Peril (2013) is a very powerful, intense drama, set on the southern Aberdeenshire coast, and both very well acted by George MacKay (Aaron) and Kate Dickie (Cathy), and carefully brought to life by Paul Wright (in his first feature). It is not the sort of film that some might choose to see, and perhaps one could liken it to an Amour in what it demands of us, for no one will stay the course without accepting its emotional pull.

The story that, towards the end of the film, Aaron asks his mother Cathy to tell him (we do not know his age, but MacKay is 21), about the devil, the sea and the people*, is one that we have heard – snatches of – throughout. She declines to tell it, saying that she does not remember, but then, without saying more, just starts – and maybe finds the words in the telling, itself a sort of metaphor in the whole piece.

That story, because we finally hear the ending (which Aaron may have actually forgotten, and so is asking for the story) takes us to the surprising closing shots - and suddenly brings home how it is more than that Aaron identifies it with this place where he lives, but that the story somehow is about these people and this place. Aaron, his mother and his brother Michael, lost (with four others) the first time that Aaron goes out to sea, feel that they might be better not living here, and that Cathy could have had enough to keep them going in some less exacting community, but then there would be no story – the story that ambiguously resolves with the film serves to keep them there.

Younger brothers of a similar age, problems with those living around, but the conception is quite different : there are some interesting elements in Blackbird, but they in no way coalesce, and remain jutting out, whereas here song, the story, Aaron’s mental life, and the Peter-Grimes-like gossip and hostility of the community are a whole, and brought to us by mixing in a whole variety of home-filmed footages and images to represent their past, their history.

On another level, with one film one can ponder long and hard what might have happened to Michael and to Aaron (resented as the only survivor), but there is really nothing to reflect on in the other, save (as done in this review) what diagnosis might fit Ruadhan’s behaviour – which is actually the last thing that one wants to do with Aaron, so careful is the film (as, we were told, Wright intended) to look at his experience in it social context.

Nonetheless, the film is about where mental health resides, and the ambiguities help us meditate on the nature of loss, guilt, blame and separation, both for Cathy and for Aaron, as well as for Jane (?) (Nichola Burley), Michael’s fiancée, and the tentative support that Aaron and she find in each other. Watch this film, but heed the words of this year’s Cambridge Film Festival programme :

[A]n engaging plurality of filmmaking styles [serve] to emphasise the growing disjunction between Aaron’s reality and his subconscious


* Another Scottish tradition has a tale of wolves descending on a town, but they are really less wolves than Viking raiders.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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