Asmall prairie town weaves a magic spell on all who pass through it in “Conquest.” A tale of forgotten eccentrics given a new lease on life by a visitor stranded in their midst, the film has echoes of “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “The Spitfire Grill.” Commercial prospects for the quirky yarn aren’t as vibrant as the earlier movies, but it could find a modest theatrical niche and score decent sales as a direct-to-cable offering.
Conquest, Saskatchewan, Pop. 124, has seen considerably better days. Most of the farmers in the town are too old to make their land work, and their children long ago departed for big cities. But local banker Pincer Bedier (Lothar Bluteau) remains a dreamer, encouraging the remaining few to try new crops and pursue new business ventures.
When Daisy MacDonald’s (Tara Fitzgerald) Alfa Romeo conks out in the outpost, Pincer attempts to enlist the financially strapped young woman to take charge of the local hardware store in exchange for the cost of the repair. She initially balks at the deal, but reconsiders when other options evaporate.
Rob Forsyth’s script is an appealing melange of romantic comedy, social observation and whimsy. Pincer is an anachronism, a banker with a heart who wants to do right and revive the dying pit stop. But, as one local tells him, propping up the failing farmlands isn’t necessarily a good deed. Story concludes that you can’t turn back the clock. Still, there’s a lot to be said for pushing forward and bringing Conquest into the 21st century.
Deftly directed by Piers Haggard, the film provides a strong sense of the isolation of the community thanks to d.p. Gerald Packer’s broad vistas and the ever-present sound of whistling winds on the soundtrack.
Bluteau effects the perfect balance of charm and sensitivity, with a dollop of cluelessness thrown in for good measure. He has an easy rapport with Fitzgerald, who plays the square peg in the puzzle. When matters grow dark, her character provides an outside perspective that grounds the piece.
The strong supporting cast includes vets David Fox and Monique Mercure and wonderfully comic and poignant turns from Eugene Lipinski and Daniel Macdonald as inept farmers with artistic souls. Overall, “Conquest” is a slyly winning morsel.