Title: For Those In Peril
Director: Paul Wright
Major players: George MacKay, Kate Dickie
Out of five? 3.5
There was a week last October when the Scots appeared to have overrun the cinemas around the UK. Three Scottish films were all released simultaneously. The feel good musical Sunshine On Leith (https://fredacooper.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/a-cloud-or-two-on-leith/) and the savagely funny Filth were two and they came out on DVD earlier this year. Finally, the third has arrived on DVD – the most distinctive of the three, yet it was probably seen by the smallest audience.
For Those In Peril is the first feature from Scottish writer/director Paul Wright and is set in a fishing village on the North East of coast of Scotland. The sinking of a fishing boat results in the death of all but one of the crew. Aaron’s (George MacKay) physical injuries are minimal, but the emotional impact of the accident goes deep, because one of the casualties is his brother. Convinced his brother is still alive, he sets out on a solo mission to find him.
The sea dominates the film and the village, to the extent that it is almost a character in its own right. It sets the grey, dour tone of the film, yet neither the village nor the film would survive without it. Cold and unforgiving, it brings life and death to the village in equal measure, providing a living through fishing, the folklore that everybody buys into, despite a well-attended kirk, and death when its mood turns even darker. Even on an infrequent sunny day, it still looks grim and casts its tone over the entire film. When colour appears, in the shape of the fishing boat or blood, it looks garish and overly bright.
The legends that the community cling to go hand in hand with the superstitions that turn Aaron into an outcast after the accident. Never especially sociable or ambitious, he’s now regarded as a curse, a Jonah – the father of one of the other victims tells him his son said he was “never right for the boat” – and nobody will take him out to sea to help him look for his lost brother for fear of meeting the same fate. The only person to show him any compassion, apart from his own mother, is his brother’s fiancé, but even she eventually finds his obsessive behaviour too much to handle.
The film is shot in a semi-documentary style, making much use of home movies to show the strength of the relationship between Aaron and his brother. Aaron maintains throughout the film that he cannot remember anything of the accident but, as the story progresses, there are brief but blurred flashes, a sign that his memory is coming back – if he would let it. There is also a strong Scandi feeling to the production, the same style of grey grittiness and sparse dialogue that has made the genre so popular in recent years. And, indeed, there are a number of Scandinavian names on the credits list.
But, ultimately, it’s undeniably Scottish, even though its leading man, George MacKay, isn’t. He has, though made something of a career of playing Scottish characters, giving him plenty of opportunity to hone his accent, which is never anything less than convincing. He rises to the physical and mental challenges of his role superbly, giving a performance full of power and subtlety that marks him out as a big talent to watch out for. Kate Dickie is compassionate as his mother, the pain in her life etched in the lines on her face: she’s brought up two sons single handed and, by the end of the film, is totally on her own.
As a first feature, For Those In Peril is a strong debut. While it doesn’t succeed all the time – the beached whale in the final moments jars with the film’s overall understated style – there is more than enough in both the story and acting to be absorbing. And to promise much more from both its director and star.
For Those In Peril is available now on DVD.