On the eve of the First World War on the Outer Hebridean Isle of Lewis, young Kirsty Macleod (Hermione Corfield) enjoys a seemingly-idyllic existence, with even her boyfriend Murdo (Will Fletcher) being called up failing to dispirit her too much. However, when she is raped by an unknown man following a traditional ‘road dance’ to see the island’s young men off to war, Kirsty finds herself potentially facing the wrath of the wider community with only her family and the local doctor Maclean (Mark Gatiss) on her side.
Writer-director Adams, adapting the 2002 novel by John McKay, effectively establishes the island community to which Kirsty belongs, and the supposed safety of her world before the rape, with her relationship with Murdo in particular feeling well-developed as both characters connect through their love of literature.
The rape itself is portrayed as minimally as possible, potentially fending off any possible accusations of exploitation in these times. However, this decision also serves to make its impact seem all the more powerful.
Adams’ decision to focus largely on the aftermath is a wise one, as scenes showing Kirsty trying to conceal her pregnancy from her family and the wider community prove to be surprisingly tense, with any opportunity for the deception to be revealed appearing dangerously probable.
These sequences, along with a later sequence of Kirsty trying to escape with her baby, also effectively serve to underline the stigma of being an unmarried young mother during the time period in a rural island community.
Adams avoids the pitfall of making the narrative yet another tragic tale of a woman brought down by the constraints of her time period and community. Instead, he ensures that Kirsty’s family is shown to be understanding and supportive of her rather than condemning her and blaming her for her rape. Similarly, the wider community is not depicted as a stereotypical small-minded rural backwater, with any disapproval only being hinted at rather than being expressed explicitly.
The ensemble cast all provide excellent performances, with the two most prominent examples being Corfield and Gatiss. Corfield provides Kirsty with an energetic spirit in her earlier scenes that transforms into determined resolve following her ordeal. She also manages to capture both the carefree and vulnerable aspects of the character without either one overshadowing the other.
Gatiss in a rare dramatic role also impresses as Dr Maclean, providing nuance to what could have easily been a one-dimensional role by ensuring that his portrayal covers all aspects of the character’s personality, including his more ambiguous motives.
The Road Dance is a well-told story of how rape affects one young woman that doesn’t resort to exploitative and negative cliches in its conveyance of such a complicated issue.
Available on general release now