Written and directed by William McGregor, Gwen is a very dark, slow take on many issues that faced people back in the industrial revolution such as cholera, greed, and the inherent cruelty of men. Here the story is seen from the point of view of a girl, her mother, and her sister as they navigate life without the family’s patriarch, leaving them without any real income or anyone who has much rights compared with the men who want them off their lands. The writing shows great care and attention to the characters and their plight, with the directing making it something that is moody and has a lot to offer in terms of sadness and darkness, but overall, it comes off a bit too, for lack of a better word, bland. The film uses themes that are still there today between health and capitalism, but the story drags a bit in terms of how it develops and the attention can be lost after a while of suffering in dark lands.
The film’s look is interesting but it is almost always the same from start to finish with a lot of greys and darks, giving the cinematography by Adam Etherington a permanent gloom that does work well with the story, but given how the story feels slow and gloomy itself, the images reinforce that and may cause some viewers to lose interest. The film is well done on all accounts, but even with these images showing all there is to see, even in the dark, something feels missing here. It’s beautifully gloomy, it’s dark, but something just doesn’t connect for this reviewer.
What does connect however is the performances. Lead actress Eleanor Worthington-Cox gives a great performance filled with nuances and little details that take it above and beyond that of anyone else in a film that is filled with great performances. Her work anchors the film and keeps the viewer involved with the story, even when everything starts feeling too slow. Her work is why one should watch the film. In the part of Elen is actress Maxine Peake who is a great source of emotions and turmoil for both Gwen and the viewer. Her performance is something that is more than just second to Worthington-Cox, she shines as well. The rest of the cast is also good, but they get much less screen time and thus less of a chance to make an impression.
Gwen is a moody dark film with great performances all around, but the film as a whole feels a bit bland or like something is missing. This means that all the cinematography, the performances, and the production design are enjoyable, but something still feels like it’s missing for some reason and that is rather unfortunate considering all the talent found in the film.