Film Review - Broken

Rufus Norris’s terrific debut feature, Broken (2012), is about the rites of passage of Skunk (Eloise Lawrence), an eleven-year girl growing up in a north London cul-de-sac with her father Archie (Tim Roth) and brother Jed (Bill Milner). Three things trouble Skunk: her mother’s desertion, her Diabetes and their unpredictable neighbours.

Sweet, curious and na├»ve, Skunk tries to get on with everyone including next door’s slow-witted son, Rick (Robert Emms), who evidently has learning difficulties. Rick is terrorised by the unruly, feral Oswald girls who live opposite. Their mother has recently died and their fiercely protective father (Rory Kinnear) has a violent streak. When he is falsely led to believe that Rick has raped his eldest daughter he charges over and beats him up, witnessed by a horrified Skunk. This terrifying act of violence is to leave Rick broken and dangerously unstable.

Meanwhile, Skunk enjoys a tentative first love with a local lad, Dillon (George Sargeant) and starts secondary school. She endures a traumatic few weeks where she is mercilessly bullied by the youngest Oswald daughter, Sunrise (Martha Bryant), but is rescued by Mike (Cillian Murphy) her favourite teacher and former boyfriend of Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) the family’s au pair. Events move apace as Rick is sectioned, the middle Oswald girl, Saskia (Faye Daveney), becomes pregnant and Archie begins a romantic relationship with Kasia.

Adapted from Daniel Clay’s 2008 novel, Broken was originally inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, although it strikes out in different directions. Some reviews have suggested that Mark O’Rowe’s script is cluttered, at times melodramatic, or bears too many traumatic incidents for one film, but this is easily forgiven when there is much else to admire. Norris and O’Rowe are well served by Rob Hardy’s superb cinematography and Victoria Boydell’s editing. They play with notions of a linear narrative, tracking back and forth between scenes, so that sometimes we see the end result (usually related to an act of violence) before we learn the cause and the sequence of events leading up to it.

Broken is a compelling drama that delivers on numerous levels. It is both funny and intensely moving and has you rooting for Skunk from the start. Lawrence’s debut is astonishing. Immensely watchable, with a smile that lights up the screen, she perfectly captures the dynamics of a child attempting to understand a turbulent adult world. Roth also impresses as her loving, solicitor father who tries to keep his family grounded and acts as peacemaker amongst the neighbours.  Their relationship is beautifully observed and, rightfully, the film’s emotional heart.

Now available on DVD

Review originally published by