Broken starts with a shockingly violent incident and then traces the repercussions of this event as they ripple, surge and then crash over the suburban cul-de-sac where it takes place. At first it appears that the film is a piece of gritty British social realism, but it soon takes us in unexpected directions.
At the heart of the film is 12-year-old Skunk, played with wonderful innocence, and a certain amount of toughness, by Eloise Laurence. She lives with her solicitor dad Archie (Tim Roth), older brother Jed (Bill Milner), and Kasia, the Eastern European au pair (Zana Marzanovic). Mum went off with another bloke to live in Birmingham, of all places, a few years before. Skunk has type 1 diabetes, but doesn’t let that get in the way of her exploring the neighbourhood, especially the local junk heap, and generally having adventures.
As well as her family, the two families next door also play an important role in Skunk’s life. There are the Buckleys – Mr and Mrs and son, 21-year-old Rick – and the Oswalds – Bob and his three teenage daughters. It is the thuggish Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) who attacks Rick Buckley at the beginning of the film, because he thought Rick had slept with one of his daughters.
With the suburban location and beating, Tyrannosaur-sounding alarm bells rang in my head. Ooops, we’re just about to head into the darkest corners of British domestic life. Tyrannosaur is a first rate film, but not one I’d want to revisit in a hurry. Thankfully, my sensitivities were spared. Although there is more violence to come, the film encompasses many more moods than simply dread.
There is a lot of love and tenderness in life in Skunk’s family home. The other families in the close maybe in a pretty dark place, but Skunk’s adventures away from the neighbourhood bring touches whimsy and sometimes stillness to the film’s emotional palette. Humour also tempers even the darkest moments. Throughout the film two wild, Afro-hairstyled youngsters zoom around on scooters flinging poo in plastic bags at passers by. It’s a bit odd and very amusing.
Broken is an adaptation of a novel by Daniel Clay, the author has said that his starting point was the family structures in To Kill A Mockingbird and it is easy to see the connections, even down to the father’s profession. It was adapted from the book by Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe, who previously scripted two movies starring Cillian Murphy (the boyfriend of Kasia the au pair in this film), and whose work tends to involve a fair amount of violence.
The children’s dialogue especially can be spot on. Skunk sharing a packet of Nik Naks with her boyfriend who wants to kiss her, explains the perils of kissing after she’s eaten some of the crisps: “later my mouth’s gonna be all niky naky.” It is the performances and perspectives of children, especially Skunk, who prevent Broken from becoming too grim. In the Blu Ray’s voluminous extras, director Rufus Norris puts his young star’s marvellous performance down to the fact that she does not want to be actress.
Norris is best known as a theatre director, where he has won awards and directed plays at the National Theatre. He marshals impressive performances from the cast, especially Tim Roth as the thoroughly decent dad, and of course Eloise Laurence. Much of Broken looks lovely too – possibly a tad Malickian as there is a certain amount of golden hour footage, sprinkled with close-ups of nature.
Certainly almost everyone in the film has broken bits, but all in their own distinct ways. And if the cracks in everything don’t always let the light in, they at least don’t cripple everyone. Sometimes Broken can fell like getting a thump followed by a tickle – a bit like growing up.
Broken won two British Independent Film Awards including Best Film and the Golden Eye Award for best international film at the Zurich International Film Festival 2012.
See the trailer here: