(Welsh, Irish and English dialogue)
Abrave shot at hitching the two Celtic societies of Wales and Northern Ireland under an umbrella of anti-English nationalism, “Branwen” misses its target through shaky development, revealing the stretch marks on its central thesis. This controversial attempt to take Welsh-lingo filmmaking into the contemporary political arena looks set to go not much wider than airings to the already convinced.
Title character (Morfudd Hughes) is a militant Welsh teacher, daughter of a churchman. Despite the objections of her adopted soldier brother, Mathonwy (Robert Gwyn Davies), Branwen marries her b.f., Kevin (Richard Lynch), a Welshman raised in Northern Ireland by whom she’s pregnant. The nonpartisan, peaceable Kevin gives in to her demands to raise their kid in Belfast, which Branwen idealistically views as the front line in the anti-English struggle.
While there, the couple become involved in an IRA killing of a soldier, and Kevin, fed up with Branwen’s politicking, kicks her out of their house. Back home in Wales, Branwen bonds closer with Mathonwy (who’s about to go off and serve in Bosnia), eventually making love with him. When Mathonwy returns wounded , and Kevin reappears from Belfast, the scene is set for a (literal) final conflagration.
Though performances and dialogue are generally on-key, the first half of the pic suffers from confusing exposition in which characters and their relationships are often unclear and considerable prior knowledge of the societies is taken for granted. (Script is developed from a play based on the legend of how the two Celtic nations split apart.) Subtleties in switching between the Welsh and Irish languages will also be missed by non-speakers.
A bigger fault is the dramatic focus, which at first centers on Kevin (as the voice of conciliation) and only later switches to Branwen. Between the two extremes, a convincing case is never made for extending Irish armed nationalism to the Welsh cause.
Though most of the characters are defined more by their politics than by their personalities, performances are OK within those limits. Technically, the production is pro, with the blowup from Super-16mm bright and strongly colored, if less than ideally sharp in long shots. For the record, freshman director Ceri Sherlock is Welsh-born and producer Angela Graham a Northern Irelander now resident in Wales.