Two films that deal with estranged farming families hardly constitutes an estranged farming family subgenre to an already tiny farming film genre. But it is unusual to have two within 18 months and although there are superficial similarities with last year’s The Levelling, they are quite different.

Alice Bell (Ruth Wilson) has been around the world using her skills as a sheep shearer to get work and get by, she hasn’t been home for some 15 years. Receiving the news of her father’s death she returns home to find a dilapidated farm and her brother Joe (Mark Stanley) none to welcoming. There’s money problems, and as tenants of the farm Joe is under pressure to keep the landlord happy by ensuring the farm is in good condition.

Alice tries to be conciliatory but is haunted by hallucinations and memories of her late abusive father Richard (Sean Bean) to the extent that she can hardly step in to the main house. Her brother is torn with grief, having looked after Richard while he was ill. As such he has little time for Alice or her ideas, he’s also hitting the booze. The fissure is blatant when Joe drunkenly attacks Alice, who’s forced to defend herself with sheers.

The locals understand what is going on, but are quite happy to exploit the sibling’s differences, ripping them off for their sheep. Wrapped up in all this is a dispute as to who inherits the farm since both have a claim, though their ideas for its future are polar opposites. It’s down to the landlords to choose, however their conduct and eventual decision set off a devastating chain of events.

It’s almost a two hander between Stanley and Wilson and writer/director Clio Barnard carefully balances these fragile situations and characters. They are cut from the same cloth but the combination of their individual past experiences and future ambitions has taken its toll. Their differences aren’t just aspirational and mental, they are physically stark: Alice’s countenance has the bronzed hue of a well-travelled grafter, Joe’s is wear and pale almost washed out.

Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley are outstanding in their roles, at times feral they also hew sympathy for their characters – they both have reasons to feel betrayed. Stanley’s Joe is for the most part unlikeable, yet one understands his pressure, while Wilson’s Alice has a dogged determination to succeed while tormented by her past. Sean Bean? Well, he doesn’t have much to do but does it well.

As one will gather Dark River doesn’t have sunny rolling countryside with frolicking livestock, the palette is dark green and blue, this combined with rolling mists and grey gathering clouds create gloomy vistas, and injured sheep are destroyed where they fall. Not a cheery film but a brutally engrossing one.