“Gwen” is a tense, emotionally-wrought slow burn of a film with stellar acting, a fantastic story and gorgeous cinematography — a classic in the making.
A breathtakingly beautiful and historic journey, Gwen takes us back in time to mid-19th Century Wales. Told through the eyes of its eponymous young leading lady, this emotional and tragic tale will break your heart.
Big change in the world does not come without cost. In every generation, as far back in history that we can look at, there have been groups of people who don’t care what they do to the environment, or the creatures in it. All that ever matters to them is to move their agenda forward.
In Gwen, we see that Northern Wales during the industrial revolution was no different. And those making the technical advancements were selfish, brutal monsters in a battle to take whatever they wanted, at any cost.
In the stark beauty of 19th Century Snowdonia, a young girl tries desperately to hold her home together. She struggles with her mother’s mysterious illness, her father’s absence and a ruthless mining company encroaching on their land. A growing darkness begins to take grip of her home, and the suspicious local community turns on Gwen and her family. In the debut feature film from William McGregor, we get the chance to turn back time and peek into the gothic world of 1855 Wales. This is a story with purpose and outrage at the cruelties doled out to the poor in the name of progress. Dark grey skies, muted colors, closed doors and repression as thick as the damp fog that surrounds the little Welsh village, all form a chilling dread that sucks us into the story.
Poor Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) has been born into an isolated world that is outdated, and they are prey for the richer business folks that want their land. She, along with her mother Elen (Maxine Peake) and little sister Mari (Jodi Innes) are at the edge of a town full of human evil.
Gwen struggles to play happily with her younger sister, shielding her from the problems they obviously have. Her mother is stern and tired, and much stricter than she needs to be. But you can almost see that she is preparing Gwen to take over the family.
Three women against the world, vulnerable and alone, with their father away in the war.
The cards are stacked against this hard-working family. As they squeeze a meager existence out of their rocky garden and a few sheep, the quarry nearby begins bullying them into selling their property. Gwen’s mother Elen fights back at first, saying she must keep the place for her husband to return to. But she is sick and has been keeping this from her girls.
As her mother’s seizures get worse, Gwen goes to the local physician, Dr. Wren (Kobna Holdbook-Smith), for medicine. We can guess now that the tonic he offers would not help her if it is epilepsy, as it seems. Even though he seems kindly enough, the doctor is also controlled by the greedy leaders of the town. He gives Gwen the medicine, making her promise to pay him back after the next market.
But can she pay him back? The towns people turn away from Gwen at the market. An animal heart is found nailed to their door. Their garden seems to be rotting and something or someone kills all their sheep. Is there a supernatural force against them too? Things just get worse from here, and they almost lose everything, even each other.
This may not be a film for everyone.
If you love films like The Witch, or even A Series of Unfortunate Events, you will adore Gwen.
For those who don’t care for a moody cerebral film, then it may be too slow and dramatic.
I loved Gwen and every atmospheric moment within it. I hung on every word — and trust me, there were not a lot of them. The moody aesthetic was perfect, from the candlelit interiors to the wind-swept rocky hills.
Gwen is a dark film, with tragic events. But somehow, even though the ending broke my heart, I felt empowered by this strong young girl, who despite the odds stacked against her, carries on.
Gwen will be in Theaters, On Demand and on Digital HD August 16, 2019, and is co-produced by Shudder and RLJE Films.