A loneliness akin to the grave in which he has just buried his wife, a wooden box of broken memories and hopes cruelly denied, Eric Black has fled to a remote island off the west coast of Scotland, sole resident in charge of a flock of over six hundred sheep, ferried across the gap towards the foggy fields, snow-capped peaks and a ramshackle cottage with no electricity or running water.
A man alone with some firewood and provisions, a gas lamp, instructions for the sheep and the repairs needed on the cottage and his own dark thoughts, he gathers water in a bucket from the pool by the standing stone carved with runes; glittering in the water is a ring which he takes, a reminder which summons the storm, thunder and lightning, wind and rain, his dog Baxter standing rigid by the bedroom door as if waiting for something, or someone.
Written and directed by Russell Owen, A Discovery of Witches‘ Tom Hughes is Eric, the Shepherd of the title, running to the ends of the earth to escape his grief and guilt only to find it is already there waiting for him, caught between the memories of Rachel (Vikings’ Gaia Weiss) and the black-draped figure he sees in the mists, in the forest, on the deck of a ghost ship grounded in the valley.
Weighed down by an atmosphere as thick as the unrelenting weather of the Isle of Mull where it was shot, Shepherd is correspondingly light on event, Eric scared of heights, of the journal of the previous occupant, of the ringing phone and its cryptic messages, of the nightmares when he beds down under the creaking joists, led to where he is wanted to be as much as his woolly charges.
Tortured by the dour fishboat captain (The Green Knight‘s Kate Dickie) who in the company of her pet crow ferried him to the island, driven by his mother Glenys (The Terror’s Greta Scacchi) who embraces God but not forgiveness, fragments of memory surface but despite the murkiness the water is too shallow to contain a mystery of any great depth.
Barely able to care for himself and haunted by the past, Eric is a predictably poor shepherd, the dread and menace of the harsh land palpable and his visions unsettling but isolated fragments in the wider landscape, as insubstantial as drops of rain in the stormy sea, moments which are overwhelmed and lost in a feature which might have been better sheared short.