A spooky story well worth seeking out, here’s our review of Gwen.
Director: William McGregor
Cast: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Maxine Peake, Mark Lewis Jones, Richard Harrington, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Release date: 19th July
Reviewer: Charlotte Harrison
There aren’t many films that are so unsettling they get under your skin. Even fewer that stay there, staying on the periphery of the mind longer term. The Witch (2015) was very much one of those, and it has a lot in common with Gwen. Both are about families isolated both geographically and emotionally from their communities. They’re also both about things happening, be they inflicted by fellow man or some inexplicable force, and the resulting rising panic and alarm that can set in. It’s easy to forget how reliant communities of the past were on nature, how a bad crop or spreading of illness in animals could devastate an entire family or even the entire community. We’re quickly reminded of this whilst watching Gwen.
Set in the hills of Wales during the Industrial Revolution, our eponymous character (Worthington-Cox), her mother Elen (Peake) and younger sister fend for themselves. The family patriarch is away fighting, leaving those left behind in a position that makes the word vulnerable feel like an understatement. Worthington-Cox provides an incredible performance as a woman on the cusp of adulthood who resides in a community that is untrusting of a house occupied solely by women. This fear creates unease, which undoubtedly places Gwen and her family in danger. This soon takes a great toll on Elen, seemingly invoking bouts of inexplicable hysteria – in turn adding to the mounting responsibilities Gwen must take on.
It’s a clear star-in-the-making performance from her. We know only what Gwen knows, which is very little. We are also hyper-aware that they’re not safe, even if we do not fully know why. We, like Gwen, are all too aware of the looming threats, but we also have no idea what she can do. We also remain, like Gwen, impotent in the face of emotional trauma, whilst unable to help her in her desperate struggles to protect her family. The result is a haunting folktale that lingers long after the story has been told. A melancholy and unnerving folktale.