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Stars: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Kit Harington, William Houston, Carice van Houten, Paul Anderson, Emilia Jones, Ivy George, Jack Roth, Naomi Battrick, Bill Tangradi

Director: Martin Koolhoven

Ah, westerns. Old-timers may long for the days when Joel McCrea, John Wayne, Randolph Scott and Audie Murphy shot down the bad guys inside 90 minutes at the end, but Brimstone illustrates all that's both good and bad about the 21st century western, and why we see so few made any more.

Clothing in today's films is dark, without any splashes of colour; and the plots have gloom and doom as relentless companions. This one is beautifully photographed, unlike many of today's westerns, which seem to be shot in shades of brown, but its story depicts an endless flow of abuse, brutality, violence, rape, incest and worse. It's very well acted, but hard to sit through, especially at this length.

Dakota Fanning plays Liz, a mute woman (just to make things more difficult), the second wife of Eli (Houston), who lives in the wilds of a God-fearing community of America with her small daughter (George, later Battrick) and Eli's son, who resents her. Seen as the local midwife, she becomes ostracised after the stillborn death of a baby - she had to choose between the child and its mother - just as her nemesis, a preacher (Pearce in a commandingly evil performance) strides into town.

The 'reverend' is in fact her father, who tortured his wife into suicide, murdered the man Fanning loved and raped her, and killed another man who tried to help her. How, even though she's unable to speak, she failed to convey any of this to her husband before or even after the brute's reappearance is a fundamental weakness in the story, which is otherwise fluently, uncompromisingly told (although in non-linear style) and has a poignant conclusion.

Rather slow in parts, the film is still compelling almost throughout for those prepared for a gruelling, harrowing, incredibly unpleasant ride.

David Quinlan

USA/Germany/Netherlands/UK/France/Belgium/Sweden 2016. UK Distributor: Thunderbird. Colour (unspecified).
148 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 23 Sep 2017