The Road Dance (2021)
Director: Richie Adams
Screenwriter: Richie Adams
Starring: Hermione Corfield, Will Fletcher, Mark Gatiss
When thinking of the best cinematic output by country, very few look to Scotland. Cinephiles often go to familiar favourites such as France, Germany and Japan, each with a history of releasing truly outstanding cinema, each with a long list of certified masterpieces to their name. When looking for something fresh, unique or even just fun, Scotland is not the first place to come to mind. Even when looking at the best British films, Scottish films make up only a tiny percentage, the small handful of films deemed worthy of making the cut being the predictable (yet worthy) selections of Trainspotting and a randomly generated Bill Forsyth picture. Yet, over the past 5 years or so, Scotland has steadily released its fair share of underrated gems – films like John McPhail’s Anna and the Apocalypse, Ninian Doff’s Get Duked!, and Michael Caton-Jones’ Our Ladies. With the country’s latest release, The Road Dance (an adaptation of John MacKay’s book of the same name), Scotland heads back to a more traditional form of on-screen storytelling than the films released in recent years, offering something in the same vein as the nation’s undisputed earliest classic, Whisky Galore! (1949).
Opening up with shots of the beautiful scenery of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, The Road Dance is immediately eye-catching, Scotland living up to its beautiful reputation and Petra Korner capturing it with aplomb. It becomes apparent soon after that the film’s cinematography is not the only breathtaking aspect of The Road Dance, with its striking period appropriate costumes and sets providing equally gorgeous imagery.
Once the protagonist of the story Kirsty (Hermione Corfield) is introduced, a lot of information is thrown at the screen about her character. Thankfully, in spite of the volume of information being told in such a short period of time, it never feels like too much and it does set up a knowable and likeable lead. Kirsty is a young bookworm dreaming of a life out of the gender expectations of both the time and her island, specifically dreaming of escape to the United States of America. It’s nothing revolutionary so far as characters go, but the way in which the screenplay engages with Kirsty’s interests is very well done, and her prospective romance with love interest Murdo (Will Fletcher) is one too sweet to not leave you invested in their relationship from very early on.
When Murdo and the rest of the young men on the island are sent to fight in the First World War, the island comes together for a befitting send off for the young lads: a road dance. From here, cracks in Kirsty’s idealised and hopeful perspective begin to emerge.
Unfortunately, Kirsty is barely developed beyond the first act information dump, and the weight of her trauma goes on to feel distant and unworthy of the emotional gravitas afforded to it. Things happen rapidly or not at all – Kirsty becomes isolated incredibly quickly yet we’re hardly given a reason as to why, or even a reason to care.
This issue is only highlighted further by Hermione Corfield’s portrayal, which unfortunately is unable to reach the depths of the emotional trauma her character is going through, and thus fails to keep us engaged and invested in the film’s more testing and drawn out moments.
This is, of course, an aspect of the picture that lands on the shoulders of writer-director Richie Adams, whose screenplay seems absent of thought regarding the truth behind how any given person may actually react in the situations presented, and the performance of his lead therefore feels poorly guided from page to screen.
But The Road Dance isn’t a bad experience, only a frustrating one…
There is so much good peppered throughout The Road Dance – not least the film’s central romance and the on-screen chemistry that clearly elevates these sections and the individual performances of both Corfield and Fletcher. The war is effectively portrayed too, with Adams showing off the better of his skills when presenting the war effort of those on the island and later battle scenes. There is a genuinely interesting core of a community at the heart of Adams’ screenplay too, with The Road Dance never failing to feel real, lived in – some side characters getting particularly memorable arcs.
But ultimately, Richie Adams’ The Road Dance won’t be remembered as fondly as the high class Scottish features of recent years, the absence of character progression and the way some of the real-life issues are dealt with in a menial manner making for a frustrating experience, albeit one with excellent visuals, accurate costumes and memorable set design.