From Straw Dogs to Eden Lake, English cinema is full of warnings that moving to the country might not be the idyll it promises to be; that escaping the rat race of the city might become just a different form of imprisonment. That’s certainly the case in Dictynna Hood’s debut feature, which stars Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dawn and David Johnson two young teachers who have just moved back to the village where David grew up, in the hope of starting a family in a more peaceful, rural environment.
Country life certainly has its attractions: they have a charming if slightly dilapidated cottage, a dog to walk and a chicken run. Dawn sings in the church choir, and the local policeman knows their name. But when David’s soldier brother Nick (Shaun Evans) arrives, twitchy and traumatised from a tour in Afghanistan, it’s clear that there’s more to the Johnson family than David has ever admitted to Dawn, and that neither brother is quite the man that he appears to be.
Had it been made in the US, Wreckers might have been a Blue Valentine or Brothers: high profile, prestigious movies with big names flexing their acting muscles between franchises. It’s the kind of story that you can imagine Harvey Weinstein campaigning for awards for, with Natalie Portman or Michelle Williams as Dawn and Ryan Gosling or Joseph Gordon-Levitt as David. But Wreckers has a quiet, icy delicacy that’s very British in tone: it’s full of tiny, sudden shifts in atmosphere, and of repeated revelations, each another crack in the lives of David and Dawn.
Claire Foy (Little Dorrit, The Night Watch) is mesmerising throughout: she’s in every scene of the film, and makes even the more melodramatic moments feel natural and unforced. It’s fascinating, too, to see Cumberbatch as a man much more physically threatening, and emotionally inarticulate, than the dazzling minds he’s often cast as: here he’s a man with a terrible rage locked inside him, and a past that shimmers with long-buried pain. You might ask: given his background, why move back to the very village where he grew up? I’m not sure there’s an answer to that, other than Hood’s need to kick off the plot, but there’s a fiercely efficient narrative drive beneath the drama right from the very first scene.
Dictynna Hood said in an interview that “When I was writing the script my question was always “Who has Dawn married?” And I like that the audience has to answer that and she has to answer that too”. And that’s the heart of Wreckers: that we only know the people we love from the time that we personally spend with them, and we can’t tell how representative that is. It’s an intimate drama that grips like a thriller, and despite a few clumsy notes it’s a remarkable first feature.