REVIEW: ‘Wildfire’ (2020) is a Sensational Debut

Kelly and Lauren, two brunette women, who are dressed up and at an event. Their expressions are morose, staring ahead while people are more enthusiastic and out of focus behind them.
Image courtesy of Northern Ireland Screen

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A sensational debut and an undeniable breakout feature

Have you ever been left in silence as the final credits roll? Complete silence, until finally, a faint snivel starts to patter around the room, followed by a deep intake of breath.

That’s the impression Wildfire will leave you with: complete and utter bereavement. Trauma and triggers are so often spoken about, how important it is that we process and talk about them. But this film deep dives into the fiercely unbearable pain that trauma leaves us with and the impact that it will have on future generations, the necessity of addressing it but equally the chaos that will ensue when we finally do. 

The story itself follows two sisters, Kelly (Nika McGuigan) and Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone), who grew up in a town bordering the North and South of Ireland during the Troubles. This is a complex and deeply divisive history, relating to the conflict majoritively witnessed in Northern Ireland between the late 1960s and late 1990s with further effects felt in Southern Ireland and the UK as well. 

Bloodied but holding hands, Kelly and Lauren walk along a mountain path with their car behind them.
Image courtesy of Modern Films

 Now having reached adulthood, Lauren has chosen to stay—within what is revealed to be quite a suffocating community—while Kelly fled, only to be forced to return after a year of absence. Each sister’s  coping mechanism, formed in order to cope with the reality of growing up in a war zone, collides once more and causes a ricochet of confrontation throughout their lives. 

This film is raw, unbearably so at times, as the two leads expertly portray both strength and vulnerability. Noone has a grounding presence that, once challenged by McGuigan’s character, can erupt into chaos; it is a transformation that is hauntingly satisfying to watch. A special mention must be given to McGuigan’s performance, who tragically passed away during post production. Not only is she a truly phenomenal force but her energy with Noone is also something so rarely seen in cinema—the complex and intense relationship between sisters, especially ones who grew up in such onerous circumstances. Both actors capably portray the polarising reactions siblings can have to an event, despite having grown up together in the same community and family. It’s reflective and relatable to our own families, how we somehow manage to function with distinctly different personalities and reactions to the same events.

Wildfire ultimately holds a mirror up to the Troubles’ impact in Northern Ireland and the generational trauma that has ensued as a result. If you are unfamiliar with this history, this film will implore you to amend that and to take consideration of it. It pointedly examines how infuriating and challenging recovery from such tragedy can be as well as how little is known of the Troubles outside of Ireland, despite its effect still being very significantly felt today beyond the Irish border. This comes with even greater urgency now in consideration of the impact of Brexit on the Good Friday agreement, further revealing how fragile peace still is.

This film is a sensational debut and an undeniable breakout feature from Cathy Brady. Her sensitivity, strength, and empathy is showcased through characterization and story while her fearlessness portrayed in the development process is astonishing. As opposed to using funding to write a script in isolation, Brady employed an intense rehearsal period with the actors instead; they experimented with music and photos, placed across one wall in a singular room, to develop the story first. This then drew further interest from a multitude of bodies across the UK and Ireland. The result is not only staggering but also a further calling card to all development execs and funding bodies: Invest in new talent and allow them to fulfill their creative desires. Doing so will lead to a striking outcome, one that is undeniably richer as a result.  

Kelly and Lauren holding hands as they twirl around a darkly lit game room.
Image courtesy of Modern Films

Wildfire reminds us to consider the human element to a period of history that is so often overlooked and misunderstood. It examines the consequence of well-known decisions, such as existing in a community that has willingly freed people who have murdered your family. This is the reality in Northern Ireland, one that is deeply complex but, in essence, simple. There is cause and effect to everything in life, and Brady effectively showcases the outcome of one instance, for one family. This is the brilliance of the film. It triggers a multitude of questions that will have you discussing and deliberating far beyond the rolling final credits. 

Directed by: Cathy Brady

Produced by: Cowboy Films (UK), Samson Films (IE), Tempesta Films (UK)

Cast: Nika McGuigan, Nora-Jane Noone, Kate Dickie, Martin McCann

Release date: September 3rd, 2021

Available on: BFI Player / various cinemas