In the Welsh Wilderness, a young girl tries to break away from the coercive control of her adopted father with the help of a lad from the local scrapyard. Here is our review of writer/director Joseph Ollman’s short drama Bitter Sky.
Joseph Ollman’s Bitter Sky treads the familiar British tradition of working-class realism that connects with the films of Ken Loach, Shane Meadows, and Lynne Ramsay. Films that look at real social issues of deprivation, abuse, and poverty seen from the eyes of a central character who is usually a young child or teenager. Having made the decision to directly aim his vision towards this world, Ollman manages to put his own distinctive style to the material by managing to give us a full story of loss, abuse, and hope during its entire 16 minute run time.
Cinematographer Christopher Spurdens provides some strikingly unnerving shots of the Welsh valleys and hills, with each moment seemingly tainted with a sense of ominous beauty. These bigger more epic shots are complemented by the smaller scenes that take place in more simple settings such as at dinner tables, in bedrooms, and cars. Where Spurdens tight framing and the apt bluish-grey and dark lighting allows us to become a fly on the wall, observing what is happening as if we were an unwelcome outsider. It’s also in these tiny moments where Ollman shows his directorial skill as he manages to crank up the tension despite the somewhat mundane settings. As an audience, we are kept on our toes because we are never quite sure how these scenes will end or whether a character will end up becoming physically or mentally hurt. Thanks to Ollman and Spurdens’ smart script, the stakes remain relatively high.
A lot of the Bitter Sky’s success is thanks to the actors on show, with Darci Shaw’s Nia showing both an angry and vulnerable side. Left by her mum who simply ran away from their family home, Nia tries to make the best of her strained and somewhat frightening relationship with her stepdad. While actor Richard Harrington is an excellent foil as her guardian Roy. Yes, he is mean vicious, and violent but there are times when he manages to convince us that he does indeed love Nia. Later though, as his actions become more and more dangerous, we begin to see him for the monster that he actually is. Rowan Jones is the third actor of this small ensemble and, as local boy Aron, he also gets his own moments to shine, particularly when he first catches Nia in the scrapyard. The burgeoning relationship between the two young leads is the core of compassion and solidarity, particularly in the final few minutes, in what is a very harsh environment
Bitter Sky is not particularly original as it is the type of filmmaking the British have been excelling at since the 50’s when the New Wave first reared its head. However, Ollman takes his slice of life story, looks at the plights of the underclasses and those in the oft-forgotten rural suburbs, and treats them with sympathy and respect. Although in its darker moments Bitter Sky can be grim, there is a central theme of survival, hope, and friendship that envelopes the short, leaves a lasting impression, and allows Joseph Ollman to leave his mark on the British film industry.
Bitter Sky is available to view now on the BBC-Iplayer.