Adapted from a maudlin novel by Daniel Clay, theatre director Rufus Norris’ first feature length film, Broken, is a mixed bag. Told from the perspective of a young girl, Skunk (Eloise Laurence, making a strong debut), the story is set almost entirely in her family’s small cul-de-sac in a leafy, comfortably middle-class suburb of north London.
After Rick Buckley, her mentally handicapped neighbour is falsely accused of rape by trouble-maker Susan Oswald, the beating that Susan’s father gives to Rick starts off a chain of events that force Skunk to grow up faster than she thought possible. Not only does she struggle to comprehend Rick’s terrified retreat from the outside world after the attack, but her family life is thrown into disarray when Skunk’s nanny breaks up with her boyfriend, Mike (Cillian Murphy), and takes up with her father (Tim Roth). A further accusation from Susan that implicates both Skunk’s brother and Mike leads to a denouement of unexpected proportions.
Norris’ thoughtful direction and the unforced performances he gets from his young cast are the main draws here, adding a poetic dimension to the increasingly lurid events onscreen. Mark O’Rowe’s (Boy A) screenplay flounders in its depiction of class, the Oswalds appearing as cartoonish stereotypes existing to breed ill feeling in the otherwise complacent middle classes. There’s sensitivity and humour in some of Broken’s smaller story threads, especially Skunk’s tentative, innocent romance with a local boy, but much of this is ditched in favour of a finale that layers on the horrors to such an extent that it pushes up against Grand Guignol. It’s emotional, sure, but perhaps a little restraint would have made the story that bit more powerful.
Broken airs as part of the London Film Festival on 14 October at Odeon West End, 15 October at Vue West End and 20 October at Screen on the Green. Tickets are available from the BFI website.