Although young star Eloise Laurence remains refreshingly insouciant about her first foray into acting (she prefers singing, apparently) I can’t help but think that agents will be clamouring to sign her up after her startlingly brilliant turn as Skunk, the lodestone at the heart of Rufus Norris’ directorial debut, 'Broken' – a touching drama that deals with the many heartbreaks of growing up.
Loosely based on Harper Lee’s classic 'To Kill A Mockingbird', 'Broken' is adapted from the novel of the same name by Daniel Clay. Screenwriter Mark O’Rowe has skilfully distilled the events of the novel, which take place over a considerable length of time, into a smartly and sensitively paced form.
The relative harmony of Skunk’s suburban cul-de-sac life is disturbed when she witnesses the brutal beating of neighbour Rick (Robert Emms) at the hands of fellow neighbour Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear), a brutish man and a fiercely protective father to three tearaway daughters. The ripples of his actions are felt throughout the story, setting in motion the tragic chain of circumstances that culminate in the gripping conclusion.
Skunk, a mischievous and thoroughly charming girl with an adventurous spirit, finds herself adrift in a shifting world full of increasingly complicated grown-up problems, making discoveries (some joyful, others less so) and experiencing inevitable disillusionment along the way.
Skunk’s coming-of-age journey is framed by the adults around her, including her father Archie (Tim Roth) and teacher Mike (Cillian Murphy), and one of the most impressive aspects of 'Broken' is the wonderfully realistic representation of these relationships – the unspoken tensions, the (often very funny) dialogue, the family dynamic – everything is rendered with rare authenticity, and the performances from this eminent ensemble cast are excellent.
Director Rufus Norris does a fantastic job of evoking the hazy listlessness of afternoons during the summer holidays, aligning the camera’s gaze with Skunk’s so that we often see things from a childlike perspective – half-glimpsed through doors left ajar. Interestingly, though, even the less sympathetic characters are invested with a level of depth that inspires compassion, and though 'Broken' certainly revolves around Skunk, there are no heroes or villains: only people capable of doing good and bad things.
Powerful, moving and highly likely to bring a lump to your throat, 'Broken' is a beautiful film.
'Broken' has one more screening at the 56th BFI London Film Festival. For more info and to purchase tickets, head to bfi.org.uk/lff.