Theatre director Rufus Norris borrows from the tropes of classic kitchen sink melodramas for his ambitious filmmaking debut. A film so relentlessly grey and grim that it could only ever be British.
As in Harper Lee’s visionary coming-of-age novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Broken projects an image of a woebegone society through naïve eyes. Played with astonishing poignancy by newcomer Eloise Laurence, our protagonist is the cheerfully named Skunk, a cheery and inquisitive 11-year-old girl whose wide-eyed worldview is eradicated one day when she returns home from school to witness her belligerent neighbour Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) assaulting mentally challenged neighbour Rick (Robert Emms) who is falsely accused of raping Bob’s lying, malevolent daughter. In turmoil, Skunk turns to her older brother Jed (Bill Milner), live-in au pair Kasia (Zana Marjanovic), kind schoolteacher Mike (Cillian Murphy) and doting father Archie (a fatigued Tim Roth) for solace; unbeknownst to her that this is only the start of what will be a life changing and unremittingly traumatic summer.
Set almost entirely behind the three closed doors of this small cul-de-sac, Norris and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe are blithe voyeurs; looking through the keyholes of a contemporary British society without giving us much in the way of reflexive social commentary. Instead of providing an authenticated, perhaps more neutered presentation of London suburbia, the constant lashings of disquieting drama make Broken look and feel like a particularly depressing feature-length soap opera.
Adapted from Daniel Clay’s novel, the twisty plots are exhaustively interweaved for the screen – and at such a breakneck pace – that performances and small character nuances are left underdeveloped, culminating in a clichéd dream sequence which attempts to suggest narrative equilibrium, but falls short of mawkish contrivance.
The one beacon of light in all this darkness is Skunk’s blossoming relationship with Dillon (played by fellow newbie George Sargeant), a shoot-from-the-hip young vagabond who longs to whisk her away to sunny Florida. Achieving a goofy, but moving first-love chemistry, their performances together give this black-hearted film a beating heart, and their schmaltzy, Disneyfied pipedreams some legs. After all, anything is better than ‘Broken Britain’.
Broken is available to stream online and available to buy on DVD in the UK from July 8th.