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"The Road Dance" is an unusually peculiar viewing experience. It begins with a Robert Louis Stevenson quote about the meaning of being a person over a very pretty shot of roiling seas and then establishes these seas are near the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, in 1904. On a beach, a man and his small daughter sit and watch a passing ship, maybe headed for America, a land not as pretty and lush as the one they’re in, but nevertheless, the little girl asks, “Can we go there?” And the man, her Da, apparently, says, “Perhaps, my little dreamer.” Aw.
Soon enough, it’s ten years later. A title places us in Gearrannan Village, and the little dreamer, Kirsty, has grown into a fine lass who’s still keen on getting the heck out. “I want more than planting potatoes and working the same land as my mum and da,” she declares. All the green grass and the stone houses with the thatched roofs don’t look so great if they’re all you’ve seen of life, I guess. “No boy is gonna want a girl with her head in the clouds,” one of Kirsty’s more provincial-minded friends advises.
But that friend is wrong. Kirsty’s sweetheart, Murdo (Will Fletcher), has his head in the clouds and his nose always in a book (including one by a new American poet, Robert Frost) and is regularly mocked by the louts of the village. “You and your fancy talk, that’s all you have,” one of the louts rages. And yes, all of the dialogue is pretty much rife with cliché. And since historical-minded viewers will put two and two together and surmise that World War I is temporally just around the corner in this diegesis, they’ll also figure that tragedy awaits. But given how pretty the movie is—that is, pretty, not beautiful; while the settings may indeed be beautiful, every frame here has been location-scouted and dressed to a fare-thee-well that sucks all the life out of every image—the viewer might also rest easy at the near-certain prospect that The Unfortunate Events will be conveyed as antiseptically and tastefully as possible.
And indeed, they are. But they may not be the Unfortunate Events you are expecting. At the movie’s title event, a Scot Thing that’s also a way of seeing off the boys going Over There, Kirsty is raped and becomes pregnant. Rape is a violation that traumatizes, to be sure; this movie nevertheless continues down a relatively bland and anodyne path, which makes it peculiar.
Directed by Richie Adams from a script Adams adapted from John MacKay’s novel, the movie maintains the tone of a travelogue as Kirsty, played serviceably by Hermione Corfield, keeps mum as she awaits the not-quite-blessed event. Given the picture’s complete inability, even disinclination, to put any kind of emotional hook into the proceedings, what’s left of the film’s running time throws in a couple of plot twists, just as you’ve gotten the impression that everything’s going to continue to go down like a row of dominoes. We’re left with the pretty scenery and a free-floating sense of inconsequentiality.
Now playing in theaters and on VOD.
Hermione Corfield as Kirsty Macleod
Morven Christie as Mairi Macleod
Mark Gatiss as Doctor Maclean
Will Fletcher as Murdo Macaulay
Ali Fumiko Whitney as Annie Macleod
Ian Pirie as Constable Macrae
Jeff Stewart as Skipper
David Brooks as Kirsty’s Father
Felicity Keenan as Young Kirsty
Tom Byrne as Iain Ban