Kelly (the late Nika McGuigan) returns home after having been missing for a year – questions such as why she left, where she went and why she came back are never properly addressed. Initially having believed her to be dead, her sister Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) takes her in and as a result, the pair become the hottest gossip of the small Irish border village. With Kelly’s behaviour increasingly erratic, Lauren butts head with anyone who accuses her sister of being crazy like their mother (who committed suicide when they were children). It’s easy to see how the duo has become the talk of the town, and underneath all these familial tensions bubbles the aftermath of the Troubles, the Good Friday Agreement and Brexit.
Wildfire – the debut from writer-director Cathy Brady – is a sentimental illustration of sisterly love supported by stunning performances from McGuigan and Noone. Although there are a few shaky moments in their execution (particularly during emotional confrontation), it’s clear that both actors share a deep connection onscreen, and when the pair give a scene everything they have the effect is either joyously entertaining or profoundly intimate. Kelly and Lauren have their own trauma and anxieties; the talent of the actors is such that viewers can understand each as well as they know each other.
The sisters’ story is undoubtedly the core of the film. However, Brady makes the mistake of presenting the narrative as a melodramatic soap opera rather than a hard-hitting family drama. Most of the conflicts arise from rumours and prying conversations. For instance, Lauren’s work colleagues gossip and laugh behind her back while those close to the family repeat how dangerously similar Kelly’s behaviour is to her mother’s. All these sensationalised moments sour the bittersweetness of the siblings’ bonding and shared heartache.
Equally disappointing is the script’s inability to make the most of its socio-political backdrop. The start of the drama makes a point of emphasising the volatile circumstances, but – aside from one brief encounter that is never brought to light again – it ultimately isn’t brought up for the remainder of the plot. With the exception of a revelation at the end, it seems strange to strongly emphasise context that doesn’t play much of a part in events.
The fantastic performances from both McGuigan and Noone imbue Brady’s debut feature with a bright spark. But due to an over-reliance on melodrama and a confusion of themes, this spark isn’t able to catch fire.
Wildfire does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Wildfire here: