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Midlands Review - Ashes

By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2019 10:22AM

Midlands Review - Ashes

Directed by Alan Coulson

Bradgate Films


Ashes is a feature drama from Alan Coulson which was filmed in and around the Midlands with a story set around a man let out of jail and returning to Scotland.

We open with Jonathan Soter (Rupert Proctor), a man seriously depressed after the loss of his wife in a fire, which is cross-cut with Donnie McKinley (played by Graeme Rooney) getting released from prison for the crime that caused it and who decides to head home to Scotland.

This well-structured introduction sets up all the main pieces and draws you in as we see a man re-starting his life and another man seemingly at the end of his.

The film’s opening also showcases impressive production values where even BBC East Midlands newsreaders read out the fictional story and in many ways its simplicity is a huge plus point – keeping the story central and at the forefront.

A solid soundtrack is used in montages to push forward narrative and once back in Scotland, Donnie appears haunted by his past but is warmly welcomed back by his friend Kenny, played excellently with unhinged arrogance by Mark Wood.

As Kenny recalls exaggerated tales from their past, Donnie looks genuinely upset by his criminal past. Jonathan though is clearly seeking revenge of some sort and drives through the night, spotting (or imagining) Donnie at the roadside.

The film has a host of symbolism and religious imagery such as crosses (crosses to bear?) and Rupert Proctor as the victim does well in a mostly non-speaking part – troubled by his loss and focused only on comeuppance. Unshaven and disturbed he wanders aimlessly at times showing a certain amount of doubt and introspection on whether his plans are the right ones.

A (slightly) overblown string score brings some gravitas to the proceedings and both characters drown their sorrows in bouts of alcohol. Jonathan reacquaints himself with an old flame as he attempts to return to a normal life whilst Donnie is filled with regret and the audience begin to sympathise with both leads.

The technical aspects of Ashes are fantastic - it’s well filmed, nicely edited and the sound mix are all top-notch. It does however slow slightly in the middle as the characters’ reflections and recollections of the past seem a little repetitious and although aiming for seriousness, are a little dour and slow-paced. However, they are interspersed with flashes of violence as Jonathan takes revenge with a broken pool cue in the toilets of pub once he gets to Scotland.

The film contemplates the destructive effects of dwelling on the past as well as the devasting effects of alcohol – ultimately revealing that Jonathan’s wife passed away in bed – too drunk to wake up despite the fire.

As the film comes to its conclusion, Donnie’s friend Kenny feels he has been upstaged after Jonathan’s attack and soon we see violence begetting violence. A final Mexican standoff at the end and a reprise of the importance of a religious pendant ensure the themes return full circle and we get a satisfactory payoff of the film’s subject matter.

Blame, revenge and regret are all covered in an impressive feature showcasing both talent here in the Midlands and over the border in Scotland. The three central performances are all very strong and sell the intriguing story of masculinity and repentance. Mostly gripping and certainly impressive for its low budget in the technical arena, Ashes ends up being a moving reflection on the damaging consequences of vengeance and retribution.

Michael Sales

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