Following the death of her father, Alice (Ruth Wilson) returns home to Yorkshire for the first time in 15 years, to claim the family farm she believes is rightfully hers. Once there she finds her older brother Joe (Mark Stanley), a man she barely recognizes, worn down by years of struggling to keep the farm going while caring for their sick father. Joe is thrown by Alice’s sudden arrival and upset by her claim. He cannot deal with her being there and soon the siblings fight to regain control. Alice is forced to confront traumatic memories and family betrayals to find a way to restore the farm and save her bond with her brother before both lost forever.
This is a slow-burning, intense tale of a sibling power struggle. Alice is a roving sheep shearer who returns home and finds both the farm and her younger brother Joe in comparable states of disrepair.
Ground down by the day-to-day care of their recently-deceased father (Sean Bean in flashback) and looking for a quick sale, Joe struggles to understand his sister’s motivation for returning the farm back to its former glory. The rightful owner of the property, Alice finds herself battling not only her brother but also her abusive past. An increasingly unhinged Joe accepts a backhander from the farm’s unscrupulous landlords to sell Alice’s inheritance from under her nose, setting a tragic chain of events.
Anchored by two excellent but contrasting performances (Wilson and Stanley), the film expands upon the themes of childhood kinship while at the same time serving as a condemnation of the historic exploitation and mismanagement of rural agricultural heartland. Throughout the film, bonds, both familial or statutory, are abused and betrayed, the only true loyalty is seen is in the duty-bound dogs that slink along at Alice’s side. A kindly neighbor (Dean Andrews) provides a bit of respite from the mounting pressure, but as Joe’s psychological integrity begins to crumble, Alice finds herself in danger of losing more than physical property.
Beautifully filmed by Brazilian cinematographer Adriano Goldman, the film explores exploring both the inner and outer-workings of the characters. Perfectly-cast Wilson is constantly swimming against the current of her own harrowing memories, often telling more in a single glance than her broken brother ever could. Clio Barnard directed this relentlessly dismal look at one of Britain’s bleakest enclaves with a haunting intimacy that brings us deep inside her characters’ volatile psyches. She leaves the specifics of Alice’s abuse tastefully vague and focuses instead on her strained relationship with her brother, Joe, whom she feels failed to protect her from their father. The two become involved in a dispute over control of the family’s sheep ranch that symbolically represents their diverging paths since Alice left home 15 years ago. While she has dealt with her demons by always keeping busy, her brother has sunk into indolence and alcoholism, allowing the farm to gradually fall into disrepair.