Families in Stress

The Irish Film Festival, online again 2021, runs from 3-12 September. Tickets available now.

Film review by Frank O’Shea

Wildfire, Written and directed by Cathy Brady; Produced by Carlo Cresto-Dina, Charles Steel, David Collins; Casting by Nika McGuigan and Nora-Jane Noone. 2020.

The opening scenes in Wildfire set a background for this gritty story of pain and difficulty coming to terms with the past. We have brief shots of Orange marches and IRA funerals, prisoners being released after the 1998 Agreement and news reports of Brexit problems. We are brought back to reality as we watch a stream of passengers leaving a ferry in Rosslare or Dun Laoire, only one of them being called back by customs to have her bags rummaged and herself strip-searched.

The young woman is Kelly and while the customs have no problem with her, she has difficulty getting a lift to the border before being picked up by a truck whose driver is not Irish. When she gets there, she is frightened by a loud noise that might be the gunfire she would have been familiar with from her childhood. Fortunately, her sister Lauren lives nearby and they are uneasily reunited. The remainder of the film takes place in this area, probably on the Tyrone side of the Blackwater river boundary with Monaghan.

The film deals with the difficulty that the two sisters have coming to terms with each other first and then with the unfriendly inhabitants of the town. Lauren works with a large packaging outfit, where her relationships with her co-workers are sometimes troubled. Meanwhile, Kelly is digging up the front lawn of Lauren and her husband, determined to plant some vegetables. At this stage, we realise that she is not quite right in her head and we gradually learn that her problems are concerned with the death of her mother.

There is also a brief flashback to the death of her father in a terrorist explosion. One of those charged has by now been released under the 1998 Agreement, but Kelly is not impressed. ‘You might be a free man, but you’re still a murderer,’ she bravely tells him. By now, she is getting more disturbed and has drawn Lauren into the kind of intimate sisterly friendship they would have enjoyed in their upbringing. There is one memorable scene where the two dance, almost intimately, to loud music in the snooker room of a local bar.

The actors playing Kelly (Nika McQuigan) and Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) actually look like sisters and it is only after Kelly begins to wear a red coat belonging to her dead mother that the viewer is clear about who is who. The two women carry the film with powerful performances, Rika deeply disturbed but managing to seem normal, her sister calmer and down-to-earth. Sadly Rika, daughter of the boxer Barry McGuigan, died while the film was in post-production.

It is not entirely clear how the situation between the two girls is resolved. They drive through the night to a place near a cliff and wait to be collected by the police – Gardai, not PSNI. The film is written and directed by Cathy Brady who was given an award by the BFI worth £50,000 for her work.

The accents are not strongly Ulster which makes it easier to follow the plot. There is not much emphasis on scenery, but such long shots as are used show a beautiful part of the country. Without having put a clock to it, there seemed that an unusual amount of the action taking was set at night time. A very modern film with a particularly strong female cast and with a story that may appeal strongly to women.

Frank O’Shea is a member of the Tinteán editorial collective.