Attention: Book Discussion Groups.
Have I got a book for you. And a movie beautifully adapted from it.
Both are titled Broken.
Broken - the book - is by first-time novelist Daniel Clay. Broken - the movie - is directed by first-time feature film director Rufus Norris.
The book may be hard to find. In the large city in which I'm located, no library had a copy of the novel. And none of the Barnes & Noble stores had a copy.
Find it. It may be a hidden treasure.
While the first-timers Clay and Norris are impressive, the first-timer who is extraordinary is novice actress Eloise Laurence.
Young Laurence has the lead role as Skunk Cunningham, a tomboy who is curious, forceful and vulnerable. She is an eleven-year old diabetic, who is being raised with her brother by her father Archie (Tim Roth) and a nanny (Zana Marjanovic). Skunk is going through the throes of an awkward age.
The family lives in a suburban cul-de-sac in North London. It's troubled by confusion, conflict and violence. Skunk has to come-of-age under severe duress.
When I first saw Eloise Laurence on screen in Broken, she reminded me of Mary Badham, who portrayed Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Laurence has the same shaped face, hairstyle, and the same innocent, serious look in her eyes.
Mark O'Rowe wrote the screenplay. At first I didn't realize that the book by Daniel Clay was inspired by Harper Lee's celebrated novel.
It has a young girl, an estranged outsider, and a false accusation that causes ruin. Skunk has a brother named Jed; Scout's brother was named Jem. Both young girls are being raised without mothers by single fathers. Both Archie and Atticus were low-key men of decency.
Director Rufus Norris has achieved a notable record in theater. In his initial film, he brings an evocative sense of image - a baby fidgeting in an incubator, soapy water running down a car's bumper, a yellow bucket rolling, a junked car dropping from the sky.
Norris likes to play with time, leaping back and forth. He also has a gift of getting distinctive performances from his actors.
The quick peck on the lips between Skunk and Dillon (George Sargeant) is a memorable tender moment.
Eloise Laurence makes the incredible leap from being in a school production of Little Shop of Horrors to the screen.
Broken may not be kind to many of its women - one wife and mother is absent, another is dead, and a third is ineffectual. But Eloise Laurence's Skunk is a shining presence.
If Laurence continues her acting, she should easily pass Mary Badham's four films. But at this point Laurence's preference is music.
Laurence sings two songs on the soundtrack of Broken. Damon Albarn and Electric Wave Bureau provide music. Laurence renders a terrific rendition of Blur's Colours.
Tim Roth gives a modulated, human performance as Skunk's dad. Roth usually has competed with Christopher Walken for the most broad, angst-driven performances. In Broken, he is convincingly subdued. It's a heartfelt change.
Also, for once Cillian Murphy is not evil. His character is not even willful. He plays Skunk's teacher and the uncertain suitor of the nanny (Zana Marjanovc).
Bill Milner is natural as Skunk's brother Jed. Robert Emms plays Clay's Mockingbird. And Rory Kinnear is his brutal nemesis Bob Oswald. Rosalie Kosky-Hensman plays Bob's oldest daughter, who brings havoc to the neighborhood.
In Broken, Skunk continues the perception and awareness of Scout.
Broken, like Mockingbird, expresses a powerful vision - in a harsh world, keep your innocence and decency.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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