The story of an eleven-year-old diabetic girl nicknamed Skunk (Eloise Laurence). She lives with her father Archie (Tim Roth), her elder brother Jed (Bill Milner), and au pair Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) in North London. Her life changes after witnessing a violent attack on a neighbour in the cul-de-sac where she lives.
BROKEN is a first feature from director Rufus Norris. It is written by Mark O’Rowe form a Daniel Clay novel. It details the lives of the people in the cul-de-sac and is also a coming of age story for the tomboyish Skunk.
Skunk lives a sheltered middle-class existence, especially in comparison with the life led by her neighbours the Oswalds. The three Oswald daughters and their violent father Bob are the odd family out in their quiet street. They are constantly visited by the police. It is Bob who attacks another neighbour, a mild-mannered and intellectually-challenged young man called Ricky. Bob believes Ricky has sexually assaulted one of the Oswald girls.
Skunk views all this at a distance. Mostly she is cosily ensconced in family life. Her father Archie has worked hard to raise his two children in the absence of their mother who abandoned the family some years ago. Kasia the au pair has been in the family’s employ and is something of a mother figure for the children. However things are changing in Skunk’s life. The audience feels a sense of foreboding that continues for the length of this film.
BROKEN is a well-made debut. The story has a flavour of 1980s era Mike Leigh, as it is told in ensemble and focuses on the minutiae of three families unconnected except for their location. Director Norris also games with the film’s timeline and his various visual flourishes put me in mind of the work of Lynne Ramsay (MORVERN CALLAR, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN).
Norris elicits all round excellent performances from the cast. He is a well-credentialled British theatre director whose credits include a West End production of Cabaret and a Broadway production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Eloise Laurence is brilliant as Skunk. Tim Roth is perhaps the most restrained we’ve ever seen him in the role of family man Archie. Cillian Murphy is also uncharacteristically not a psychopath, playing the part of a teacher and the au pair’s laidback boyfriend. Craziest Man on Screen honours are taken by Rory Kinnear in his top-notch portrayal of the violent and over-protective Bob.
BROKEN covers some strong dramatic material; violence, teenage sexuality and mental health issues are all grist to its mill. However there are also moments of comedic lightness to help leaven the final result. (Note to self: metaphors indicate I am craving baked goods.)
I was not entirely persuaded by the dramatic truth of this tale. I found it mostly well done with moments of annoying contrivance. The voters of the British Independent Film Awards were more convinced however, they awarded BROKEN their 2012 prize for Best Film.
BROKEN is now screening in Australia in limited release. It runs for 91 minutes. I rated it 6/10.