Tension all but bursts out of the frame in writer-director Eleanor Yule's feature debut, a Gothic tale brewed with Zola-style realism and brought to life by a strong cast that sustains a heightened level of simmering emotions. Bottled-up sexual desire grips the inhabitants of a rambling Scottish farmhouse. Arthouse circulation could lead to modest revenue.

Tension all but bursts out of the frame in writer-director Eleanor Yule’s brooding feature debut, “Blinded,” a Gothic tale brewed with Zola-style realism and brought to life by a strong cast that sustains a heightened level of simmering emotions. Taking stylistic cues from her TV docus on artists, Yule creates a somber world trapped in graying amber, where bottled-up sexual desire grips the inhabitants of a rambling Scottish farmhouse. Arthouse circulation could lead to modest revenue supplemented by ancillary.

Symbolism is high from the outset, as individual letters of the credits sink down the screen, seemingly dropped into half-gelled aspic. Mike Hammershoi (Anders W. Berthelsen) is a Danish hitcher looking for work in southern Scotland. Country doctor Caroline Lamar (Samantha Bond) takes a fancy to the handsome stranger and suggests trying nearby Black’s Farm, though she’s lukewarm on his chances.

Crossing the threshold, Mike is plunged into a twilight world controlled by the rages of blind Francis Black (Peter Mullan), the farm’s proprietor. Mike isn’t sure whether to accept a laughably low wage to clear out some rusted machinery, but he spies Francis’ young wife, Rachel (Jodhi May), and agrees to take the job.

Francis enjoys keeping his wife and mother Bella (Phyllida Law) in a continual state of cowed anxiety. Though blind, he senses the attraction between Mike and Rachel, and monitors their interactions as best he can. Mike’s days are spent hauling pieces of decrepit industrial equipment and tossing them into a bottomless mud pit, which Yule uses as a metaphor for secret longings sucked into the murky depths of repressed desire.

When Mike and Rachel eventually kiss, the latter’s cravings well up. Francis sniffs out the relationship and sacks Mike, warning Rachel that he’ll kill himself if she leaves with the handyman. The lovers rendezvous near the mud hole, where they see Francis approaching the edge with a knife in his hands. In the tussle that follows, Mike throws the older man into the pit, and a liberated Rachel thinks her life can finally begin. But during the subsequent police investigation, secrets from Mike’s past raise disturbing questions about his true nature.

Inspired in parts by Zola’s “Therese Raquin,” but with an obvious nod to “Jane Eyre,” pic roots around in the subconscious miasma that is the stuff of Gothic novelists. Helmer Yule plays with a sense of period, positioning the outsiders (Mike and Caroline) firmly in a light-filled present while the heavy clothing and sparse, down-at-heel furnishings inside Black’s Farm show a time-weary realm faded without any help from the sun.

Rage has become Mullan’s calling card as a thesp, and here his constant state of malevolence suits the character, more literary than real, to a tee. May again proves she’s one of the U.K.’s most underused actresses, and Berthelsen, best known for the Dogma film “Mifune,” has no trouble in his first English-language role capturing the lightly accented foreigner haunted by demons.

Low budget and a quick, four-week shoot don’t hamper tech aspects, especially d.p. Jerry Kelly’s filtered lensing, attuned to the colors and shading of the 19th-century Danish romantic painters Yule acknowledges as her inspiration.

Blinded

U.K.

Production

An Oscarfilms presentation of a New Found Film production, in association with Scottish Screen, Scottish TV, Grampian TV, and Blinded Co-Prods. Produced by Oscar van Heek. Executive producers, Carole Sheridan, Agnes Wilkie, Bill Gore. Directed, written by Eleanor Yule.

Crew

Camera (color, HDV-to-35mm), Jerry Kelly; editor, James Hamilton; music, Malcolm Lindsay; production designer, Mark Leese; art director, Caroline Grebbell; costume designer, Ali Mitchell; sound (Dolby Digital), Douglas McDougal; casting, Joyce Nettles. Reviewed at Taormina Film Festival, June 17, 2004. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Peter Mullan, Jodhi May, Anders W. Berthelsen, Samantha Bond, Phyllida Law.
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