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The Road Dance review — a dark tale of loss and regret

The Road Dance is a period drama based on the best-selling novel by John MacKay.

Hermione Corfield as Kirsty Macleod in The Road Dance
(Image: © Parkland Pictures)

Based on the best-selling novel by John MacKay, The Road Dance is a period drama set in the picturesque but bleak Outer Hebrides in the early twentieth century. It is a place where, as one character states, “even the sea comes to die.” Young Kirsty Macleod is a dreamer who imagines a life far away from her small village on the Isle of Lewis and her drab routine of potato-planting and bible studies. Her daydreams and innocent courtship with the sensitive Murdo “books” MacAulay come to a crashing halt one tragic night, on the eve of First World War conscription when her life is shattered after a savage attack.

It’s at the Road Dance — an event set up to honor the young men of the village who are heading off to fight in the war — that Kirsty is raped by an unknown assailant. As would have been so common then she feels she has no option but to stay quiet and to keep her assault a secret. It’s a decision that haunts her and has consequences for everyone around her.

A talented young cast is joined by Mark Gatiss, playing the village doctor who helps Kirsty after the attack and Morven Christie as Kirsty’s God-fearing, but kindly, single parent, Mairi. It’s a difficult watch, mostly because the film skips from grey and dour, to heart-wrenchingly desolate. You won’t get much of a sense of Scots humor or community in The Road Dance. Here, life is hard and everyone suffers. And yet along with the poverty, the war and traumatic events, there’s an attempt to evoke a more heart-warming sense of nostalgia, through the use of sea-shanties, slo-mo folk dances and cinematic shots of the Hebridean landscapes — the two moods often jar uncomfortably. The film is downbeat but the cast — in particular, Hermione Corfield in the pivotal lead role — delivers an assured performance that just about manages to hold both sides of the tale together. 

Stars Hermione Corfield (The Misfits, Endeavour), Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who, Sherlock, Game of Thrones), Will Fletcher (The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power) and Morven Christie (The Bay, Grantchester).

The Road Dance is out in theaters now.

I head up the team at What to Watch, helping to grow our newest entertainment brand. I've worked in content strategy, production and audience development for leading film and TV companies for over 15 years. Always fascinated by digital trends, I'm currently obsessed with FilmTok. You can also find me extolling the virtues of Fringe, Smallville, rom-coms, Wong Kar Wei and Monty Don/Gardener's World.