Archival footage of past conflicts between the North and South of Ireland accompany the opening credits of Irish director Cathy Brady’s politically-charged Wildfire, which addresses renewed fears that trouble could return to the Irish border in the wake of Brexit. This tension forms the backdrop of this Belfast-set domestic drama, which focuses on the relationship between two sisters, Kelly (Nika McGuigan) and Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone), who grew up on the border during this tough historical period. The pair are reunited when Kelly returns from an unexplained year of absence only to turn Lauren’s life upside down with her wild behavior. As a portrait of a family in turmoil, Wildfire starts out persuasively, demonstrating how a mutual connection between siblings — in this instance, through shared grief for their mother — can linger despite prolonged periods of distance. In early scenes of the sisters rebuilding their relationship, McGuigan and Noone are convincing as estranged family members. Sadly, the characters make so many irrational choices that one struggles to take Wildfire seriously; the sisters’ self-destructive downward spiral is difficult to stomach and really quite tiresome in its schematism. The film fares better when it deals with the fallout of old quarrels and embittered tensions, exacerbated somewhat by the presence of combatants on either side who have served prison sentences for terrorism offenses and have since been released. Wildfire makes a powerful argument for prioritizing peace in the area over absolute sovereignty, and it should be commended for providing such a realistic window into an underrepresented section of society, but its authenticity as a family saga is questionable.
Published as part of London Film Festival 2020 — Dispatch 3.