The Outrun, review: Saoirse Ronan earths Amy Liptrot's redemption memoir

Saoirse Ronan as Rona in the adaptation of Amy Liptrot's memoir The Outrun
Saoirse Ronan as Rona in the adaptation of Amy Liptrot's memoir The Outrun - StudioCanal/Natalie Seery

Part rehab memoir, part travelogue about the wildlife and crashing waves of the Orkneys, Amy Liptrot’s 2016 book The Outrun won prizes and rave reviews, because Liptrot was gesturing to grander horizons than her own personal redemption.

Still, personal redemption was the gist of it: 10 years of drug and alcohol addiction in London had taken their toll, destroying a relationship and leaving her a shell of a person. A retreat to more elemental living, planting two feet back on the land of her birth, proved a miracle cure.

She’s played in this film adaptation – renamed Rona – by Saoirse Ronan, who has plenty of bright ideas for playing her as a prodigal misfit: restless, twitchy, walled-off from the people who want to love her. Ronan’s physically convincing, with a tough abrasiveness many people of her age may recognise. When she loses a beloved pendant on a messy night out, it’s classic Rona – a tedious catastrophe that plunges her into selfish fury, lashing out against strangers. Nothing is ever her fault.

The script, which Liptrot co-wrote with German director Nora Fingscheidt, lightly sketches the origins of Rona’s troubled adulthood back to her upbringing on a farm, with a bipolar father (Stephen Dillane) who had a breakdown on the day she was born, and an undemonstrative mother (Saskia Reeves), whose born-again values she mainly holds in disdain. These relationships are poised to be explored in more depth than they are.

Part of the issue is the splintered timeline – we jump back and forth through all phases of Rona’s story, having to keep track of her hair dye to stay on the same page.

The antsy structure cuts both ways: watching her boyfriend (an affecting Paapa Essiedu) reach the end of his tether is perhaps more poignant in these broken shards, but they feel like shortcuts when it comes to the arduous business of actually getting well. The film can’t honour the duration of Rona’s rehab, obviously, but hopscotching over so much legwork makes it all seem pre-ordained, and simply too easy.

Fingscheidt’s flashy, jumpy directorial style made ample sense for the ADHD teenager in her strong feature debut System Crasher (2019); much less so for the incoherent Sandra Bullock cop-killer drama The Unforgivable (2021).

The Outrun splits the difference, relying on Ronan to give it grounding amid the pyrotechnics. When it gropes for a bombastic clifftop catharsis – Rona conducts the surf like an orchestra, having glued together all the jagged pieces of herself – it’s emphatic but unmistakably strained.

15 cert, 118 mins. Screening at Berlin Film Festival; a UK release date is TBC