Rufus Norris’ debut Broken (2012), an adaptation of the Daniel Clay novel, presents a portrait of three families living in a British cul-de-sac as seen from the point of view of a young girl, Skunk (Eloise Laurence). British actor Tim Roth heads up the first family as Skunk’s father Archie, a gently-mannered attorney single-handedly bringing up his daughter and son Jed (Bill Milner) with help from the Polish au pair Kasia (Zana Marjanovic). The second family are an older couple living with their grown-up, slightly unhinged son Rick (Robert Emms) and the third – the Oswalds – very much the diabolical ASBO inversion of Archie’s relaxed, middle class household.
The film begins with Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear) viciously and seemingly randomly attacking Rick, after one of his daughters has made up an accusation in order to placate and distract her father. The ripples from this attack spread throughout the film and eventually have tragic consequences come the end. Broken’s dialogue is witty throughout and the ensemble cast acquit themselves extremely well. Cillian Murphy, as Kasia’s sometime boyfriend and Skunk’s teacher Mike, and Roth are perhaps the most recognisable faces, yet the young cast are also similarly fantastic. Despite such strong performances from the likes of Laurence, Roth and Murphy, however, Norris’ debut feature remains heavily flawed.
For a film which begins as a piece of grounded social realistic drama with some nice comic touches, it quickly overloads itself with far too much dramatic freight. With so much action going on, the lurking menace of suburbia turns into a melodrama that frankly beggars belief. In addition, the overall message of Norris’ film continues a recurrent trend of demonising the working classes. Everything that is wrong with the street stems from one problem family – the Oswalds – with their psychopathic father and his spoilt, whorish daughters.
The pity with Broken is that there is much to like an admire, especially in its portrayal of the tumultuousness of childhood, yet sadly Norris’ debut doesn’t quite have the subtlety or finesse to really make a lasting impression.
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