Broken tells a bunch of coinciding stories set on the same cul-de-sac but mainly from the POV of 11-year-old Skunk (newcomer Eloise Lawrence) who lives with her solicitor dad (Roth), gawky older brother (Bill Milner) and her nanny (Zana Marjanovic) on the quiet cul-de-sac – wait, scrub that – a would be quiet cul-de-sac if it weren’t for The Oswalds. A problem family straight out of Jeremy Kyle’s nightmares that consist of psychotic Dad (Kinnear) and his two spoilt, tearaway daughters. The inciting incident that sets all the stories into motion is when Skunk witnesses one of her neighbours, a young man with learning difficulties (a brilliant Robert Emms) being beaten up by Bob Oswald, under the false assumption that he had raped his daughter.
On the face of it Broken sounds like every other British independant film: highly well regarded British theatre director adapts impressive debut novel starring the some of British indie films greatest actors and its partly BBC license fee funded too. Social realist yawn-fest. The good news is that appearances are, only halfway, deceiving.
Debut film director Rufus Norris manages to weave the stories into an engaging narrative tapestry where the story never feels crowded by too many plot strands or characters jostling for attention. Although it’s an engaging and well told story, I did find the portrayl of The Oswalds troubling. In recent years there has been a worrying trend in British culture of demonizing the lower classes and The Oswalds are more of a grotesque Daily Mail caricature than an accurate depiction of working class dysfunction.
As you’d expect from a theatre director at the helm, the performances are very strong. It’s a shame that the characterization of the adults felt so contrived. If there is something to shout about in this film it’s Eloise Lawrence. When the story turns it’s gaze onto her the film comes to life in the sight of her tremendously winning presence. She is definitely one to watch. The poetic trance-like cinematography by Rob Hardy is elegantly bolstered by Damon Albarn’s whimsically beguiling score.