London Film Festival Review: Mark Rylance In Fridtjof Ryder’s ‘Inland’

The film Inland.
'Inland'. Black Twist Films

Writer-director Fridtjof Ryder makes an impressive debut with Inland, which had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival this evening. The German-English filmmaker – who also produces – has delivered an atmospheric meditation on family, loss, nature and the environment, with terrific turns from Mark Rylance and newcomer Rory Alexander. 

In the credits, the latter’s character is known as The Man, and the contemporary story pays tribute to the ancient Green Man legend. Set in Gloucester, UK, on the outskirts of the Forest of Dean, it sees him returning home after time in a facility. His mother has gone missing, and his father figure, mechanic Dunleavy (Rylance), welcomes him back with a gentle jokey greeting: “You Silly Billy.” It’s a telling phrase that sets the tone of an affectionate relationship and a character who falls back on humor when the conversation is in danger of getting serious. 

While the greeting ostensibly refers to the facial hair the young man has acquired, it also implies that “Silly Billy” is an understatement, and that he has been in some sort of trouble. Details of this emerge over the coming days – but don’t expect a full picture: subtle clues are thrown into ambiguous conversations, with a sense that no one is ever really speaking candidly. 

When The Man visits a bar/brothel with friends, the dialogue remains laddish and real, but the visuals tell a different and surreal story, recalling scenes from Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin

The intriguing set up takes various turns before coming to a conclusion that feels quite sudden, inviting a second viewing of the film with an eye for its plentiful symbolism. The enigmatic narrative won’t be for everyone, but there is no doubt about the quality of the filmmaking. 

Shot on a micro budget by a 22-year-old director, Inland looks, feels and sounds very slick. All departments do a great job of world building and setting a tangible tone. 

Performances are uniformly strong, including Shaun Dingwall as Dunleavy’s employee John, and Eleanor Holliday as a mother figure who drifts in and out of the picture, underlining the sense of loss and the need to connect with Mother Nature. 

But it’s the central relationship between the two men that is the most compelling. Alexander puts in a quiet, understated and compelling turn, holding his own next to the powerhouse that is Rylance. Having recently reprised his role in Jez Butterworth’s stage play Jerusalem, Rylance is in his element in this film that touches on some similar themes to that production, and allows the actor to use a full range of comedic and authentic mannerisms while also radiating warmth. 

Ultimately, Inland may raise more questions than it answers, but it’s a remarkable calling card with performances to savor.

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