Writer/Director Cathy Brady’s film opens with original footage of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which gives the audience a flicker of the turbulent history that’s scattered the Irish isle. We watch news clips regarding the Good Friday agreement, the issue of Brexit and the effect in Ireland, and an inkling towards the tensions which tells us things are always just a spark away from something worse, thus offering us the first suggestion of a wildfire waiting for the wind.
While Brady’s Wildfire isn’t specifically about those unsettling political edges, and the connection is relatively minor compared to the bigger story we’ll watch, there’s no doubt it plays a part in the sisters we met, who are at the centre of the story. Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) and Kelly (Nika McGuigan) were always known more as twins than sisters, born only within a year of the other, they were inseparable growing up but after their mother (played by Olga Wehrly) died in circumstances that differ in opinion, as they were both children, Kelly ran away for a year and had completely disappeared, only to return when in desperate need and eager to try and find her old life again.
Upon her return, Lauren is (of course) happy to see her but also deeply angry at Kelly not only for leaving and not staying in touch, considering how close they were, but also because Lauren’s life couldn’t really move forwards, as she feared her sister was dead or never to be seen again. It’s a powerful opening, and this is a potent introduction to two lead characters with a lot of history. In these stages, we’re only given snippets of what might have happened to their mother, and we’re unsure if she killed herself or if she died in a car accident. The news was officially the latter, but the conversations and the doubt in both their minds doesn’t quite reveal what occurred, and how we got to this point when both sisters bear the scars of the mother’s death.
Wildfire is a story of many layers, emotionally and metaphorically, and it’s achieved in a brutally honest sense. After Kelly returns home, it seems to spark an old life in Lauren, one that’s slightly separated from her partner Sean (Martin McCann), despite all he did to keep her sane whilst Kelly was missing. This is a further example that’s building in relation to title of the film, as the sisters begin to ignite a past that seems equally lost and painful, but they’re eager to connect to deal with the fallout and grief from losing a parent too soon. And, by using flashbacks as memories, it’s clear that their mother was the light that drove them both forward and so they’ve spent the rest of their life trying to find the free spirit that once inspired them but is now gone.
Brady and cinematographer Crystel Fournier choose a ghostly homecoming, as Wildfire is filmed in the dark hues of shadows, blues and blacks, with the only brightness being the red coat of their late Mother that Kelly wears after they find it in a bag in the shed. The sisters talk of her illumination and her life, they long for the joy of their childhood in response to the bleak reality of adulthood in a small town where petty rumours travel fast, and the past haunts their lives. There is more light in the finale, and it works once we get there, but you’ll need to go on the journey first.
Wildfire is brought to life by the lead pair of Noone and McGuigan, they give tremendous, deeply honest portrayals of their characters. These are sisters moulded from the same clay, but it’s not all doom and gloom, as we also follow them having a lot of fun, and getting into even more trouble, as drink, music and memories see them head into town to dance and rekindle that friendship of the years before. It’s intoxicating to witness, and you can see understand why Wildfire is such an apt title as well, each emotion and moment creating another fire that’s spreading and growing all the time.
With strong, captivating performances from Noone and McGuigan, we watch their connectivity through movement and reaction, this is potent, unpredictable and volatile but utterly addictive, and you care for their welfare and where they’ll go next. But, as it suggests, maybe some people cannot be controlled, and maybe that’s also the way life is, and that’s okay as well. There’s also a reality to the film that makes it even more poignant, and a truth I didn’t even know until the end, which makes for even deeper reflection. Beautifully made, magnificently performed, and full of passion, this is a true visceral experience and one that everyone involved should be proud of.