British director Julian Jarrold is the accomplished filmmaker behind A Royal Night Out, Kinky Boots and the movie version of Brideshead Revisited. His one true masterpiece is Red Riding: The Year Of Our Lord 1974, the first in the trilogy adaptation of David Peace’s novels set around the Yorkshire Ripper. His latest film, Sulphur and White, comes nowhere near that, but the terrain it explores is similarly dark, with violence and abuse at the heart of a true and troubling story.
The focus is David Tait (Dark River’s Mark Stanley), a man who forged a career as a ruthless trader in the City before finding more humanitarian activities to fill his time. Flickering between his brutal childhood, living with an abusive father (Dougray Scott) and a timid mother (Anna Friel), and his adult years, what we glimpse is a man barely able to hold down a relationship. Early on, we see him leave him family, as he attempts to climb the career ladder at his firm. Even sleeping with his boss’ wife doesn’t seem to be discouraged.
Salvation appears in the form of a colleague, Vanessa (Little Joe star Emily Beecham), who he will eventually marry, but trauma he still carries from his past inevitably overpowers him. Things get particularly intriguing when Vanessa gives birth, with David barely able to be in the same room as his son. What never quite comes across is how David traverses from shattered soul to someone who, years later, becomes a successful mountaineer and fund-raiser for charities.
Performance-wise, Sulphur and White is solid enough: Stanley shows his potential as Tait while Beecham is credible as his opposite number (although the role is relatively underwritten compared to the Cannes-winning Little Joe and her breakout turn in Daphne). You almost get the feeling that Tait’s life would’ve been better served being told in a documentary, with the real life man reflecting on how the nightmare he faced as a child led to his disturbed years as an adult. From what we see, it’s hard to quite fathom the enormous transition that he makes.
Sulphur and White opens on 6 March. For more details, visit here.