Broken is a moving, low-key family drama and teen coming-of-age story set in a lower middle class North London suburb. The film centres on Skunk (Eloise Laurence) an ebullient 13 year old girl who lives with her step Mother (Zana Marjanovic), older teen brother Jed (Bill Milner) and alternating father figures: dad Archie (Tim Roth) and her step mother’s new boyfriend Michael (Cillian Murphy).
Broken’s plotlines and characters evoke immediate comparisons with those in To kill a Mockingbird. The tomboyish Skunk looks and acts like Mary Badham’s Scout from the 1962 movie version of Mockingbird. Skunk’s father, like Atticus Finch in Mockingbird, is a compassionate lawyer and confidante to the troubled neighbourhood folks. Also, Skunk befriends a mentally ill neighbour Rick (Robert Emms) who, like Boo Radley, is wrongly blamed for a rape.
Like Scout, Skunk lives in the innocent fantasy world of childhood but increasingly finds the nastiness of reality crashing in. She sees Rick brutally bashed by Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) the violent thug father of the girl Rick is accused of raping and is herself attacked by Oswald’s revolting chav daughters. She also watches helplessly as her Step Mother’s twin relationships turn sour.
As Skunk, 13-year-old debutante Eloise Laurence displays a sensitivity and understanding of her character that is worthy of a much more experienced actor. Her naturalistic performance imbues Skunk with precocious charm, humour and compassion making her someone we genuinely care about. Almost as memorable as Skunk is Oswald’s repulsive white trash daughter Sunrise (Martha Bryant) who could easily be sister to Damien from the Omen.
The three male leads Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy and particularly the brutish Rory Kinnear all make excellent use of the material they are given but their characters could have been fleshed out more. Many people will also have a problem with the film’s depiction of Rick and the suggestion that the mentally ill are one step away from hideous violence.
Following a gripping and emotional beginning, the film’s middle section sags slightly and tends to lurch back and forth unsatisfyingly between the characters. Fortunately, the film recovers its focus and the latter section takes a powerful and confronting turn into darker territory.
There are many bleak moments in this film but amid the misery there’s some wonderfully endearing, offbeat humour particularly when Skunk awkwardly ventures into her first romance.
Despite its low budget, Broken has a striking look courtesy of fine autumnal cinematography from Rob Hardy and distinctive framing by first time director Rufus Norris.
It’s a familiar story but it’s handled with great warmth and sensitivity and while not overly manipulative, Broken often had the audience close to tears.
Nick’s rating: Three and a half stars.
Director(s): Rufus Norris.
Release date: 16th May 2013.
Running time: 91 mins.
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