Sexual assault, trauma, war, small town oppression – just some of the weighty themes woven into the very fabric of “The Road Dance”, a handsomely shot old-fashioned melodrama from writer-director Richie Adams. Based on the 2004 novel of the same name by John MacKay, “The Road Dance” handles its sensitive issues with the right amount of empathy and thoughtfulness. And though a touch soapy in spots, even those scenes are elevated by an eye-opening lead performance from Hermione Corfield.
Based on actual true events, the story is set in a small, tight-knit community in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. Kirsty McLeod (Corfield) has long been a dreamer, ever since the days of sitting on the beach with her late father, listening to him talk about the world beyond their shores. And while her father may be gone, she still dreams of more than planting potatoes on the same land farmed by her parents. She wants bigger things. She wants to go to America. But it’s a dream that seems so far out of reach.
As the outside world braces for the First World War, Kirsty lives in a tiny remote village with her hard-working mother, Mairi (Morven Christie) and her younger sister, Annie (Ali Fumiko Whitney). It’s an exquisitely realized setting, from the stone houses with grass covered rooftops to the collection of folks who make up the community. You have their priest, their constable, their doctor, and even an odd hermit named Skipper. They all bring such authenticity and character to the film.
Also among the locals is the well-mannered, book-loving Murdo (Will Fletcher) who returns to the village after a tour with the British military. He immediately takes a liking to Kirsty, and the two soon fall in love. But before they can begin their future together, Murdo and three other young men from the village are called to England where they’re to be sent to the Western Front. On the night before the four boys are sent off to war, the village honors them with a ‘road dance’. But for Kirsty, the already sad occasion takes a darker turn after she’s the victim of a horrific crime.
From there the bulk of the film deals with the aftermath, in one part playing like a mystery to uncover Kirsty’s assailant. But the more potent aspect of the story follows a young woman forced to hide her trauma from a small town’s judgement. It’s here that Adams does an especially good job peeling back the many complicated layers, revealing the idyllic storybook setting to be anything but. And it’s in the film’s second half that the intensely committed and throughly engaging Corfield shines brightest. She does most of the film’s heavy lifting, earning our empathy through her honesty and vulnerability.
The movie does feel a little hammy at times (a fault of the screenplay, more so than the acting), and some of the early proclamations of love aren’t particularly convincing. I’m also not sure about the abruptness of the final scene. But there’s an overall sincerity to the storytelling that makes “The Road Dance” more than a standard-issue weepie. And as the drama unfolds to the ruggedly gorgeous backdrop, it’s hard not be swept away. But we’re always brought back to earth, in large part thanks to the revelatory lead work from Hermione Corfield – a star in the making.