Scott Graham’s films have an elegiac stillness that borders on creepy. Iona, as with his enigmatic , critically-acclaimed debut feature film Shell is much the same, cementing his beautiful yet unsettling style.
When Ruth Negga as the titular character returns to the island of Iona, the place where she grew up, after suffering domestic violence in Glasgow, she brings a son, Billy, or Bull (Ben Gallagher) who becomes infatuated with a young girl Sarah (Sorcha Groundsell) the daughter of Elizabeth (Michelle Duncan) who has a tacit animosity towards Iona.
Gradually, we see why. Iona was involved with the much older Danny (Douglas Henshall) as a teenager, and left the religious community. Now, old wounds are re-opened in this impressionistic tragedy where religion, sex and the ever-present spectre of violence meet.
It’s all there in the open, expressive face of Ruth Negga, whose face can look twelve or thirty. She is as flawed and vulnerable as her tall, robust son, who is finding faith where she sees none.
Symbols are ominous: burnt-out cars, horses and milk become something more in Graham’s hands- something to be unpacked like memories. Iona must move on, without being judged, but it seems impossible when a young woman’s sexuality is something to be feared.
Eyes are everywhere, focusing on her every move- it is the perfect analogy for patriarchal dominance, where women must know their place in the world, and nothing ever progresses in small communities. Yet in the eerie calm, Scott Graham’s intelligent film never feels hectoring or forced. Everything is implied, through the sparse script and wonderful performances of all.
A gorgeous, haunting film which will stay with you for days.
Iona is released in cinemas and on BFI Player from 25th March,2016.
Running time: 85 mins.