Set circa 1960, Joe, (Ewan McGregor) a rootless young drifter, finds work on a barge traveling between Glasgow and Edinburgh, owned by Ella (Tilda Swinton). Her husband Les (Peter Mullan) and their young son live and work on the barge as well. One afternoon Joe and Les discover the corpse of a young woman floating in the water.
Was it an accident? a suicide? a murder? As the Strathclyde police investigate the crime and a suspect is arrested, we discover that Joe knows more than he is letting on. Gradually we learn of Joe's past relationship with the dead woman. Meanwhile an unspoken attraction develops between Joe and Ella, heightening the sexual tensions in the confined space of the barge.
As the murder case goes to trial, Joe finds himself attending the court sessions. He becomes obsessed with the defendant. Flashbacks fill in chapters of Joe's earlier life, episodes known only to him, including a moment when he could have acted, and did not, and does not even begin to understand why he didn't. Joe’s character is a man so detached, so cold, so willing to sacrifice others to his own convenience, that perhaps in his mind it occurs that he would feel better about the young woman's death if he had actually, actively, killed her. A dark thriller from Scotland that is well worth screening. Based on the novel by Alexander Trocchi.