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Since it was published twenty years ago, John MacKay’s novel The Road Dance has been ripe for a film adaptation and it is American director Richie Adams that has succeeded in translating this Scottish bestseller to the big screen. Set during the First World War, it follows a young woman, Kirsty Macleod (Hermione Corfield) who dreams of leaving her small community in Lewis for America with her sweetheart Murdo MacAuley (Will Fletcher). Just as Murdo is conscripted to fight on the Western Front, misfortune strikes Kirsty on the night of her village road dance.
MacKay has said that his chief concern when writing his novels is crafting a sense of place, which is expertly captured by Petra Korner’s cinematography in sweeping vistas of the rugged beauty of the Outer Hebrides. But the film adaptation gives equal consideration to fleshing out the key characters in the small community. Corfield gives a great performance as the agonised Kirsty, but it is Morven Christie’s portrayal of her mother, Mairi, that is the highlight of the film. Christie described the character as ‘frozen in grief’ and delivers a layered, deeply affecting performance as a widowed mother trying to support her daughters.
Clocking in at around two hours, the film doesn’t always flow as smoothly as it should—it falters around the three quarter mark, unsure whether to wrap up or introduce another story thread. It is a heavy film, unafraid of tackling a slew of difficult themes such as the horrors of war and violence against women. Having maintained a consistent tone up until the end, the final scene veers far too much into saccharine Hollywood sentimentality, ultimately feeling dishonest and contrived.
Although The Road Dance does not offer anything new to the genre of tragic wartime love stories, there is emotional resonance to be found within the melodrama. Its impressive cinematography and strong performances will make it a worthwhile watch for fans of such period pieces.
Eve Connor (she/her)