Wildfire (2021) Movie Review – Past and present collide in this tragic Irish drama

Past and present collide in this tragic Irish drama

Wildfire opens with a reminder of the violence that once took place in Northern Ireland and it then transitions into a scene involving Kelly (Nica McGuigan) who returns to her hometown on the Irish border after a year of being away.

The troubles of the past and Kelly’s troubles in the present seem to be unconnected, on the surface at least, but as the film plays out, we start to understand how Kelly and her sister Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) are still affected by the violent conflicts that largely ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The film doesn’t dwell on the politics of the agreement or the terrible events that came before, however, as this is more a kitchen sink drama than an exploration of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. There is a scene late on in the film when the girls are forced to confront the atrocities that took place, in the guise of one of the men who caused them, but the story is mostly concerned with the two siblings and the ways in which they try to come to terms with the grief that has caused them mental trauma since childhood.

After Kelly returns to her hometown and onto her sister’s doorstep, the two get off to a rocky start. Lauren had assumed her sister was dead so is relieved when Kelly suddenly appears. But relief gives way to anger and hostility as she demands answers from her younger sibling. The reasons for Kelly’s disappearance are never made abundantly clear for Lauren or for ourselves, but we start to realize that it has something to do with the death of the girls’ mother, who also vanished when the two were very young.

The sisters don’t remain hostile toward each other for very long. Just as Ireland became unified, so too do the girls, and they start to bond with one another as they start to confront their individual and shared traumas.

But just as they start to reconcile, their life is made harder by Lauren’s husband who fails to fully understand the depth of their relationship and the events that have scarred them.  They then run into family problems of a different kind when faced with the hardened opposition of one of their aunts (Kate Dickie) who is largely unsympathetic to their plight. Further issues arise for Lauren when she runs into conflict at work when her colleagues start to gossip about her sibling relationship. These situations cause both girls to reach breaking point and they act out in ways that are self-destructive.

As Kelly becomes increasingly out of control and Lauren starts to alienate herself from the people around her, the two group together and start to isolate themselves away from others. Their bond is clear, and there are flashbacks into the past when their mother was still alive that show the closeness the girls and their mum shared with one another before the events that tore their family apart.

Wildfire isn’t an easy watch as there is nothing here to lighten the oppressive mood that debuting director Cathy Brady creates. This is a sad and heavy drama that highlights the fact that very few of us can escape the traumas of the past. We are all the products of events that have taken place within our life’s journeys, and while some of us can distract ourselves from our troubling memories (as Laura is initially able to do thanks to her job and marriage), there are those of us who cannot forget our past ordeals quite so easily, as is the case with Nicky.

The performances at the heart of this film are fantastic. McGuigan and Noone both excel in their roles, sometimes without having to say a word, as their faces tell us all we need to know about their character’s inward struggles. Kelly and Lauren both look as if they are on the verge of breaking down at any moment, as the weight of their grief pushes them ever further into a downward mental spiral. It’s because the actresses are so good that our hearts can easily break for the girls, and while we suspect life won’t get any better for them, we can still root for the sisters as they try to break free from the mental and societal conflicts that they are faced with.

It’s sad that this film about grief features the final performance of McGuigan as she died of cancer while the film was still in post-production. Those who knew and loved her will obviously feel a deep sense of loss but so should we as audience members and film buffs, as we will never get to see her grow and develop as an actress. Wildfire will always stand as a reminder of her talents, however, as well as a reminder of the lives that are still affected by the tragedies that affected the people of Northern Ireland all of those years ago.

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  • Verdict - 7/10

2 thoughts on “Wildfire (2021) Movie Review – Past and present collide in this tragic Irish drama”

  1. Thanks for getting in touch and sharing your experiences. Knowing that Nika had passed away certainly made the film sadder during my viewing. She gave a terrific performance though – a testatment to her talents.

  2. Having lived through the troubles in North and knowing the trauma we as a people suffered as a whole aswell as personal loses my heart broke for Lauren and Kelly, the actresses where amazing and you could feel there pain just by looking at there faces. I only found this review after watching the movie and didn’t know that Nika had passed away. I’m shedding more tears now, im glad i didn’t know while watching the film or I wouldnt been able to take it from crying. RIP Nika

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