Sometime in Britain's near future, the island empire will be engaged in a civil war, according to the scenario of "Woundings." Exactly why the nation tenaciously holds onto its meager holdings and why its most primitive outposts wish to secede aren't the points of the piece: It's about the psychological scars of occupation.

Sometime in Britain’s near future, the island empire will be engaged in a civil war, according to the scenario of “Woundings.” Exactly why the nation tenaciously holds onto its meager holdings and why its most primitive outposts wish to secede aren’t the points of the piece: It’s about the psychological scars of occupation.

Unfortunately, the film has more confidence than emotional impact. The filmmakers concoct a metaphor that is unduly oblique and, despite the presence of a sterling young cast, the effort lacks the edge or precision to compete theatrically, even as a niche release. Best commercial prospects are as a pay cable original, with residual benefits on videocassette.

The unnamed war zone (pic was shot on the Isle of Man) is a bleak, barren island populated by farmers whose lifestyle and manners haven’t appreciably changed since the dawn of the industrial revolution. It’s clear that the ruling powers view the dot on the map as a symbolic rather than strategic part of the empire.

But just to make life a bit more palatable for the occupational forces, the government has instituted a program in which young single women are recruited and subsidized to go to these far-flung outposts. The advertising paints a picture considerably more exotic and romantic than the grim reality awaiting them.

Based on a stage play, “Woundings” is the sort of love-and-war melodrama Hollywood cranked out with regularity in the 1950s. The soldiers are hard-bitten, macho and largely insensitive. The women encompass a slightly wider spectrum of dreamers, patriots, the desperate and the hopeful.

Nothing much happens in this war environment. The enemy is never seen, making its presence known via exploding land mines and sniper fire. For the soldiers, there’s a grinding sameness and an emotional toll that manifests itself in icy cynicism. One comments — not in a flattering manner — that “a woman is a wound.”

The ideas and performances are sound, but the enterprise runs aground in the absence of a strong narrative throughline or a galvanizing central character.

On top of that, the filmmakers adopt an arm’s-length documentary style that saps the material of its immediacy. Individual sequences possess some force, but there’s little sense from scene to scene of the mounting horror or heartbreak that was certainly intended.

First-time feature director Roberta Hanley displays an assured hand in mounting the physical elements in this ambitious production. She captures the sense of monotony in subtle visual terms, but undercuts it with a lulling pace and a musical score that too often plays the obvious sentimental notes.

The ensemble cast is uniformly strong, with Sarah Jane Potts and Emily Lloyd most effective on the distaff side. Johnathon Schaech is another standout, limning a character with a complex moral credo.

Woundings

British

Production

A Muse Prods. presentation in association with Cinequanon Pictures, the Isle of Man Film Commission and Stone Canyon Entertainment. Produced by Chris Hanley, Bradford L. Schlei. Executive producers, Jordan Gertner, Dan Sales. Co-executive producers, Jennifer Peckham, Marc Barson. Co-producers, Betty Mae, Lisa Collins, Keith Hayley. Directed, written by Roberta Hanley, based on the play by Jeff Noon.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Alun Bollinger; editor, Andrew Marcus; music, Wendy Carlos; production designer, Chris Roope; art director, Tim Ellis; costume designer, Lizzie Gardiner; sound (Dolby), Barry Reed; military advisor, Chris Byrne; assistant director, Joe McDougall; casting, Anne Vernieu, Mary McCarthy. Reviewed at AFI Film Festival (competing), Oct. 9, 1998. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Angela - Julie Cox Denise Jones - Sammi Davis Viv - Twiggy Lawson Kim Patterson - Emily Lloyd Stanley Jardine - Charlie Creed-Miles Jimmy Compton - Guy Pearce Louise - Sarah Jane Potts Douglass Briggs - Johnathon Schaech Journalist - Noah Taylor The Colonel - Ray Winstone The Prince - Andrew Clover

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