Suburban England looks idyllic from the outside. But peel away the layers and you might just find some rather disturbing things going on. Review of Broken after the jump.
11 year-old Skunk (Eloise Laurence) lives in a suburban English cul-de-sac with her father Archie (Tim Roth), younger brother Jed (Bill Milner) and live-in nanny Kasia (Zana Marjanovic). From the outside, they look like they have a fairly normal life, in a very average working class neighbourhood. Behind the brick walls of the almost identical looking houses, things are all together not normal. Archie is bringing up his children with the help of Kasia due to his wife leaving them for another man. Kasia is struggling in a volatile relationship with Mike (Cillian Murphy), a teacher at Skunk and Jed’s school. Skunk is the subject of bullying at her new school; while Jed is very much a child making very bad adult decisions.
Neighbours, the Oswald family are upsetting the suburban tranquillity in the street. Mr Oswald (Rory Kinnear) is struggling to raise his family of mouthy, wayward teen girls after the death of their mother. He is filled with bitterness, and has a horrific temper that bubbles just beneath the surface. When one of the Oswald daughters falsely accuses another neighbour of rape, things in the neighbourhood take a very dark turn. The Oswald’s poisonous actions permeate the neighbourhood, even going as far as the local school. Skunk is getting her first real look at adulthood, and aside from the friendship of one boy, she is finding it a dark place filled with violence, fear and lies.
The aptly-named Broken is a coming-of-age story which plays out in the broken world of middle class England. Skunk is a curious girl with a big heart and a surprising amount of spunk. She is however, no match for the bullies and extremely harrowing events which occur in her neighbourhood. What stops Skunk from becomes another product of the cycle of bullying and lies, is the love of her father, Archie. Despite being somewhat broken himself [due to the departure of his wife], he is there for his children and provides them a loving and safe environment. He is very much a gentle caring man, who believes in justice, and he is very upset by the events happening around him. Archie wants to do more to help, but he has the safety of his family to think about. It’s an extremely tough situation for someone with his moral compass to be in.
Eloise Laurence and her phenomenal, natural performance is what elevates Broken to something quite special. It’s almost unfathomable that this young girl has never acted before. She deftly walks the delicate line between naïvety and a quiet intelligence beyond her years. Watching Skunk transform from relatively happy young girl, to a young woman filled with the fears of a troubled adult world is absolutely heart-breaking. This is the type of coming-of-age story which will cause you to question your faith in humanity; it plays on the deepest, darkest fears of parents.
Rory Kinnear is another stand-out in the film. The man most of us know as M’s right-hand man in Skyfall is nothing short of terrifying in this film. His anger is palpable – a mix of fear, resentment, sadness. It is his sadness which makes him especially confronting. A man who is that sad and angry, is a man with nothing to lose.
Broken does become a little too melodramatic in the latter stages, with some developments feeling like they come from a TV soap rather than a well-crafted film. There are just too many broken characters, and the screenplay struggles with a need to neatly tie up all of their story-lines. For the most part however, the screenplay handles the multiple story-lines and wonderfully written characters with respect.
Broken is not an easy watch, but it is a very rewarding one.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Rufus Norris
Writer(s): Daniel Clay (novel), Mark O’Rowe (screenplay)
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Tim Roth, Rory Kinnear, Eloise Laurence
Runtime: 91 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: May 16 2013; USA: July 19 2013 (limited)