The County review – Icelandic drama from the director of 'Rams'

Like Rams before it, the ice-glazed hillsides and stark ochre grasslands of northern Iceland are the backdrop for Grimur Hakonarson’s third feature The County, a rural drama that explores the murkier side of local politics. Inga (Arndis Hronn Egilsdottir) is a middle-aged, tough-as-nails dairy farmer. She’s grieving for her late husband who recently committed suicide, jack-knifing his truck into a ravine.

We later discover he ended his life because of punishing debts owed to a corrupt cooperative that dominates the local farming community. This leaves Igna running the farm near Dalsmynni alone. The discovery that her husband was being threatened ignites her anger and she decides to tackle the co-op head on, with a pit bull-like determination reminiscent of Frances McDormand in Three Billboards. It’s a rousing, naturalistic drama that portrays the tough realities of rural life, anchored in an excellent central performance from Egilsdottir.

Hakonarson immerses us in the daily toil of running a farm, as Inga stoically goes about her business. She finds a way to run the operation almost single-handed, having forked out the cash to automate the milking and mucking out. Sigurdur Sigurjonsson makes a wonderfully villainous antagonist as Eyjolfur, the don of the mafia-like organisation, skulking around the county, twisting arms, whispering lies, and grinning like a Cheshire Cat as he goes about his wicked business.

Arguments are made for and against such co-operatives. This is after all a punishing environment, geographically and financially, following the 2008 crash. Hakonarson shows us that it’s only through cooperation that communities survive, but it also opens the door to corruption.

There are moments that are borderline cliche, but the drama is never broad. Hakonarson keeps a tight hold on this simple yet effective drama. It’s impossible not to feel Inga’s anger and hurt and, whilst slight, there’s a good deal of pleasure to be taken from this underdog tale.


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