Morton's directorial debut is engaging, but ultimately equates to something of nothing.
After originally screening terrestrially on Channel 4 in early 2009, Samantha Morton’s dramatic directorial debut gets a theatrical release; one that it might not entirely benefit from, but that it nonetheless deserves.
Opening in a modestly furnished front room, an agitated father (Robert Carlyle) confronts his young daughter Lucy (Molly Windsor) over the cigarette money he entrusted her with and that she has inexplicably misplaced. This awkward, upsetting exchange explodes into domestic violence; Lucy is dealt a severe beating, which is amplified by the lingering, fixed lens perspective the audience are forced to watch from. Like a weathered ragdoll, Lucy lays at the foot of the stairs in a crumpled heap. Seemingly days pass.
Cut to Lucy being taken to a children’s home, Crop Row, where she is thrown into the turbulent unknown of the British care system, with nothing but the school uniform she is wearing for comfort. Taken under the unwilling wing of resident tearaway Lauren (Lauren Socha), Lucy forms the unlikeliest of friendships, and for the time, it seems her story is headed towards salvation.
That is, until a particularly unsavoury staff misdemeanour leads a now settled Lucy back into the remorseful arms of her father. The reunion does not last long.
The Unloved is a tell-it-like-it-is hardship of one child’s suffering at the hands of those closest to her. This is clearly a very personal film; sensibly sustained through a vérité aesthetic that keeps the narrative potent, but not overbearing. Aside from a gritty narrative substance, however, Morton's artistic pretensions mean that this isn't nearly as engaging as it could be.
With something of an ambiguous ending, there is no real resolve here – just the breakdown of all but all of Lucy's immediate, ill-fitted relationships. It’s all a bit of a downer, quite frankly. And that’s fine for the most part; this needn’t be a naïve, rose tinted fairy-tale. The problem is, then, it’s not entirely bleak either, equating to something of nothing: it may be lively, engaging and emotively astute, but in the same breath, it is a film of noticeable restraint and reservation.
Aside from spouts of snippy dialogue and a few fiery confrontations, Morton’s tentative toning is too empty to leave a lasting impression on you. There is certainly much promise to take from the two skilled performances of Socha and Windsor, but save for a heated penultimate showdown between several care home staffers at the Christmas party, The Unloved shies away from further exposing a tough social issue whose surface it only vainly scores.
Deserved of a big screen release after a well received run on terrestrial television in 2009.
A bold debut, but not nearly as hardened as it thinks it is.
Two emerging British talents in Windsor and Socha are the silver lining of a film that shies away from the subject at hand.