Director: Cathy Brady
Writer: Cathy Brady
Cast: Nora-Jane Noone, Nika McGuigan, Martin McCann, Katie Dickie
Producers: David Collins, Carlo Cresta-Dina, Charles Steel
Music: Matthew James Kelly
Cinematography: Crystel Fournier
Editor: Matteo Bini
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 85mins
What’s the story: Kelly (McGuigan) returns to her hometown on the Irish border, reigniting a fiery bond with her sister Lauren (Noone) and re-opening old wounds.
What’s the verdict: The shadow of an impending Hard Brexit looms large over Cathy Brady’s astonishing feature debut. Dotting the landscape are numerous billboards and graffiti calling for a united Ireland in the wake of that act of national self-harm. The implication being that Boris Johnson’s toxic vanity project will see a return of the Troubles.
But what the powerful and complex Wildfire makes clear is that for some, the scars of Ireland’s tragic past have never healed. Carrying a large burden of grief is Nika McGuigan’s Kelly, haunted and mentally unstable after a childhood trauma. Yet, responsibility for Kelly weighs heavy on Nora-Jane Noone’s Lauren, who crashed into despair when her younger sister disappeared.
“Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there” Kelly tells a bunch of kids. While pointedly floating in a river that straddles the borderline between North and South…
The same can be said for other aspects of Wildfire, including devastation wrought by IRA bombers now drinking in the local pub.
What is seen are the remnants of that bloody history. It is there in the characters’ frayed nerves, including Kate Dickie as a family friend and Martin McCann as Lauren’s husband, both excellent support. It is evident in the sympathetic looks or suspicious side-eye townsfolk throw the sisters. Or in the sudden outbursts of violence (confronting a litterer earns Kelly a bloody nose).
Disunity abounds, although the sisters’ fierce union is visibly destructive for the erratic Kelly and sparks a prickly rebelliousness in Lauren. As a darkly ironic aside, Lauren works in a cavernous Amazon-style warehouse called Connect.
Crucially, Noone and McGuigan are extraordinary as the sisters. Conveying a welter of contradictory emotions along with that bared-teeth loyalty, watching them is electrifying.
In a tragic postscript that adds a layer of real life sadness, McGuigan died of cancer in 2019 after completing the film. Wildfire is a testimony to her abilities, but the inescapable feeling is of a talent cruelly cut short.
As a director, Brady has numerous award-winning shorts and two series of Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope (starring McGuigan) on her CV. Yet, the assuredness of her feature debut still impresses. Assisted by cinematographer Crystel Fournier, she shoots present day scenes in a stark style, with flashbacks layered in a visual mist of half-recalled memory.
But Brady the director is always at the service of Brady the writer. With Wildfire she confidently announces herself as an exciting new voice in cinema.