Writer-director Simon Beaufoy has spoken of his desire to avoid a James Herriot-style depiction of the Yorkshire countryside in The Darkest Light, and certainly this film may surprise viewers of All Creatures Great And Small. Here low-flying jets scream past, while a foot-and-mouth epidemic devastates the local cattle stocks, necessitating quasi-military quarantine measures.
Beaufoy will forever be known as "the bloke wot wrote The Full Monty", yet this sombre and uncompromising drama bears next to no resemblance to his stripping comedy. His last script, Among Giants apparently had changes imposed upon it by the distributor and, in contrast, you feel that The Darkest Light is the real Beaufoy, and he's not scared to abuse his characters.
This is partly a study of a family's anguish when faced with a terminally ill child. Above all, the film is pre-occupied with questions of faith in a predominantly secular society.
The two girls interpret their `visita-tion' in religious terms, the one as a manifestation of the Virgin Mary, the other as a Hindu curse, and the villagers quickly divide into believers and non-believers. Ultimately, the main target of criticism is organised religion, which is represented by the figure of a Catholic priest, who's so quick to pour scorn on the child's account of events.
The performances, however, prevent The Darkest Light from descending into arid theological debate. Particularly impressive are Dillane as the farmer attempting to mask his rage and bewilderment, and newcomer Arnold, who's completely unselfconscious in front of the camera.
The ending may be too ambiguous for some, but the most significant weakness is the lack of a distinctive visual style. It all makes for a film more suited to the small screen.
Simon Beaufoy attempts to break free of his Full Monty shackles with this sincere and challenging exploration of faith in a rural community. The excellent performances and the originality ofthe story make up for the lack of cinematic flair.