Tag Archives: Maxine Peake

Misty Mountain Hop


by Hope Madden

“Steal a sheep and they’ll take your hand. Steal a mountain and they’ll make you a lord.”

Writer/director William McGregor clarifies the source of real horror in his period chiller Gwen, premiering this week on Shudder.

The Witch, Hagazussa, The Wind – something in the air has horror filmmakers examining the choices facing women throughout our brutal, unforgiving history. McGregor’s addition to the collective reflection is as slow a boil as any of them – slower, maybe. And though his film casts a spell, the scary part is how well it tells the truth.

Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) is a teenaged farmer’s daughter in 19th century north Wales, where the value of real estate is quite a bit higher than the value of three female lives. Her father’s away at war and her mother (Maxine Peake, extraordinary) seems harder and more frantic by the day.

With her cherubic cheeks and school marm’s stare, Worthington-Cox does an excellent job of oscillating between taking on the maternal role and behaving like a child.

Peake, as ailing matriarch Elen, pits herself against everyone—often even her own daughter—in an attempt to protect her family and stand up for herself. The performance is bone chilling as well as heartbreaking. There is palpable longing in the relationship between Gwen and Elen, both of them desperate for an existence other than this, one where maternal love and nurturing were more than luxuries.

McGregor’s wisest instinct is in confining the story to Gwen’s point of view, her immediate perspective. Outside of two brief scenes, we see only what Gwen sees, hear only what Gwen hears. Even as she readies herself for adulthood, the world is a mystery to Gwen, and so it is a mystery to us. Very little makes sense as she sees it, and that perspective gives the entire film a menacing quality, a spookiness that shapes the narrative.

Certainly if you thought The Witch lacked action, or Hagazussa explained too little, Gwen may be frustrating. Which does not make it any less exceptional as a film.

Though the filmmaker builds atmospheric dread that leads to a stunning climax, it’s a stretch to call Gwen horror. McGregor’s direction calls to mind gothic thrillers—ghosts and isolation, women slowly going mad—all elements he eerily amplifies sonically with whispering winds, crackling lightning, and a distant howl or shriek. The way he lenses Gwen’s surroundings, smoke and mist giving way to mine-ravaged hillsides, conjures similar bleakness.

But the story itself is a socially conscious drama brimming with despair and outrage.

Who Knew Acting Was His Forte?

Run & Jump

by Hope Madden

Five years ago, if someone said to me that Will Forte would become a respected talent in independent cinema, I would have said, “Nice to meet you, Will Forte’s mom.”

Who could have know that the mostly forgettable SNL star would have such a way with understated authenticity? But with his Golden Globe-nominated turn as the very patient son in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, we got a glimpse of what he could do. Run & Jump offers another such sighting.

Forte plays Ted, an American psychological researcher living for two months with an Irish family that’s coming to terms with the patriarch’s stroke. Thirty-eight-year-old Conor Casey’s entire personality changes due to the damage done to his brain, and while Ted observes Conor’s condition, he also witnesses the unraveling of a family held together by a vibrant mother (Maxine Peake).

It’s Peake who steals the show with such a raw and lovely performance. You can see the anguish and optimism duking it out in this effervescent redhead’s every thought. Thanks to Peake and a handful of multidimensional, natural performances, the film never feels false or contrived.

It’s a credit to co-writer/director Steph Green’s light touch that this complicated, even heavy premise can feel so genuine. Green’s nimble writing introduces scores of grand ideas, and under the direction of a lesser craftsman, the film would have crumbled with the weight of it. Run & Jump does not. Instead, it feels like the kind of endless mess real life often becomes.

Compassion and resilience are as bountiful as the gorgeous landscape, and both family and sun-dappled environment are fimled equally lovingly. Whether the artist is new to you (Green, Peake), or a familiar face with hidden talent, each plays a remarkable part in animating this fresh charmer.