Belfast, Northern Ireland is the backdrop for Cathy Brady’s searing drama Wildfire (2020), where long-missing Kelly (Nika McGuigan, in her final on-screen performance) is reunited with her sister, Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone), and the buried traumas of their past. They are two sides of the same coin, sometimes mistaken for twins, with the special capacity to love and hate the other that only brothers and sisters seem to have. Their fraught reunion obliquely plays out against the re-opened wound of North-South border tensions – with Brexit the catalyst for post-Troubles instability – bringing the personal and political into close proximity.
Wildfire opens with Kelly’s return home – having been missing for nearly a year, with no solid explanation as to her disappearance. She hitches several rides, stumbles through countryside, before eventually turning up at her sister’s door. Later that day, Lauren is picked up from work by her husband, Sean (Martin McCann) – who has just welcomed Kelly back – and without any words being exchanged, realises something extraordinary has happened. Her expression tells you everything about what is to come.
Whilst Lauren’s initial rage at her appearance subsides into happiness, tensions underlie every interaction; when Kelly recovers their mother’s red coat from the shed, they once again find themselves at odds, dealing with their past in entirely different ways. The ghost of their mother’s suicide, often remembered in fuzzy, split-second flashbacks, soon transforms and overwhelms the sisters. In one scene, the two dance in Bacchanalian abandon, an unexpected, animal performance that recalls Mads Mikkelsen’s euphoric dance in Another Round (2020). Eventually, the trauma of their past isolates them from friends and family, threatening to destroy Lauren’s marriage and their connection with the community.
Wildfire is cut from a similar cloth to recent depictions of post-Troubles Belfast, with Chris Brandon’s gloomy police procedural Bloodlands (2021) being the latest example. The return of the past in Northern Ireland is ripe with possibility, and Cathy Brady’s script explores this in detail, using the sisters’ tragedy to highlight the pull of collective memory. But Wildfire, much like Bloodlands, also tends towards melodrama, and the kitchen-sink drama too often relies on displays of grief and misery to drive the narrative. Something should also be said about its political commentary, which never seems to come to any fruition.
Bold and affecting, Wildfire shows a promising new talent in writer-director Cathy Brady, despite its several flaws.
Modern Films will release WILDFIRE in UK and Ireland from 3 September 2021
Writer/Director: Cathy Brady
Stars: Nika McGuigan, Nora-Jane Noone, Martin McCann
Runtime: 85 minutes