The dramatic opening of Sulphur and White sees a man hurriedly making his way to the cliff edge. On an unusually sunny English day and what looks like the white cliffs of Dover, the distraught individual is psyching himself up to jump. As the camera lens zooms in on his pained face, we are left questioning: what is this insufferable turmoil that led him here.
Based on true story, the film is an unsettling account of the life of David Tait (Mark Stanley) whose childhood is marred by abuse. He is the only son of a British couple who emigrated to South Africa for work, with a stern, detached father (Dougray Scott) and a loving yet feeble mother (Anna Friel); David’s childhood is a lonely one. His introversion intensifies as he is left mercilessly at the hands of an inappropriate grocery owner, a part-time job he reluctantly takes on. The continuous sexual abuse, becomes diturbingly worse when it starts to be repeated at home by his own father.
Fast forward to a grown-up David, now estranged from his parents, morphing himself into a ruthless city trader. Working hard, playing hard; self-medicating with booze, drugs and excessive exercise. His life has become a continuous attempt to obliterate the haunting presence of the past. From one failed marriage he embarks on another, as he relentlessly pursues his colleague (Emily Beecham). But once their new-born arrives, it invokes a mental break down within him, leaving him unable to connect to his son. Instead it has the undesirable effect of unleashing the years and years of pain and suppression and inevitably his life spirals out of control.
The childhood sequences albeit traumatic are the most compelling. The distressing story-line is juxtaposed by a beautiful cinematography, which accentuates the magnificence of the South African topography. Nonetheless this contradiction ramps up the disturbia and the brutality of David’s abuse. It’s when the film locates to the stringent corporate world of London, that it begins to feel distant and a tad soulless; perhaps like the empty shell that David’s life has become. From the austere architecture of the city and his office space, the banality of a work filled with numbers as well David’s mixture of obnoxious laddie-ness and self-destructiveness. The scenes of his never-ending decline feel drawn out, with the more poignant and gripping moments, such as the uninvited appearances of his mum, are thinly explored.
Yet Sulphur and White is very slick and well-produced; unnervingly engaging throughout. Stanley’s David is laudable, as is the fine performances of Friel, Scott and Beacham. Furthermore, the urgency of its subject matter and the bravery of David to publicly share his story cannot be emphasized enough.