A poignant and gorgeously visual story of the loss of innocence, Broken is the second feature film of theatre director Rufus Norris, and debuted to great acclaim in Critics Week at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Adapted from a novel that was inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, it’s a moving and redemptive story of an eleven-year old girl who is increasingly drawn into the complicated and cruel world of the everyday English suburbs.
‘Skunk’ (Eloise Lawrence) is on the edge of adulthood, a space where the whimsy of childhood mixes fluidly with the brutal shock of the real. Living at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac with her grounded father (Tim Roth), too-cool-for-school brother Jed (Bill Milner) and nanny Kasia (Zana Marjonovic), Skunk witnesses the frailties of human existence from a bedroom window that overlooks her neighbours. On one side lives Rick, a twenty-something young man with a condition that makes him seem childlike and dull-witted. On the other side live the Oswalds, violent and protective widower Bob (Rory Kinnear) trying his best to raise three precocious teen girls. If the explosive mix of characters at home isn’t enough, Skunk has to deal with a school where bullying and coercion seems rampant. Retreating into her own world, Skunk finds solace in the friendship of a younger boy Dillon (George Sargeant) and the calming force of her teacher Mike (Cillian Murphy) who’s dating Kasia. But her fragile world starts to come apart when the lies of the Oswald girls spin out of control, infecting everyone Skunk knows.
Director Norris takes the British realism from Mark O’Rowe’s screenplay and blends it with a beautiful visual lyricism, thanks to Rob Hardy’s dreamlike cinematography and an excellent score (the music is from Electric Wave Bureau). The effect is melancholic, perhaps the way we remember the last summer of childhood, and for those who enjoy a sensory emotional ride, this is not to be missed. The cast is universally strong, but newcomer Lawrence gives an outstanding performance, bringing Skunk to life as a warm, quirky, thoughtful girl who is not so much looking for anything particular, as feeling the pleasure and danger of growing up and coming alive.
As a poetic tale of a young girl beginning to understand the complexities of human nature as she witnesses acts of cruelty, kindness and desperation, it rightly deserves the top prize it picked up at last year’s British Independent Cinema Awards.