To Kill a Mockingbird in North London



Directed by Rufus Norris. Starring Tim Roth, Eloise Laurence, Cillian Murphy, Bill Milner, Denis Lawson, Rory Kinnear, Robert Emms, Lino Facioli, Zana Marjanovic. Written by Mark O’Rowe, from the novel by Daniel Clay.

A modern re-telling of the Harper Lee classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Broken – based on the novel of the same name by Daniel Clay – is an affecting portrait of life in suburban North England told from the point of view of its 11-year-old protagonist. While debut director Rufus Norris loses a grip on the film towards the end, he’s built up enough good along the way to make up for it.  

The majority of Broken is a touching portrait of life through the eyes of Skunk (played by newcomer Eloise Laurence), a young girl with diabetes growing up in a London suburb with older brother Jed (Bill Milner) and single father Archie (Tim Roth) a lawyer who serves as the film’s Atticus Finch. The kids are looked after by Polish au pair Kasia (Zana Marjanovic), an update of housekeeper Calpurnia in Mockingbird

At its best, Broken is a heartfelt coming-of-age story that touches on a number of themes surrounding growing up, entering adulthood, and discovering things and people with a different perspective. While the film is set in the present day, the thematic material evokes a strong sense of nostalgia for anyone that can relate to that point in their lives.

Skunk lives across the street from Rick Buckley (Robert Emms), a slow-witted neighbor and the film’s stand-in for Boo Radley. In the film’s opening scene, Buckley is viciously beat without warning in front of Skunk’s eyes by Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear), a single father of three young girls and the film’s version of Bob Ewell. 

In a flashback, we see Oswald discover a used condom and fly into a rage; he demands to know where it came from and threatens to destroy the girls’ television. Middle daughter Susan claims that Buckley raped her, connecting the dots for the audience. This storytelling technique – flashback exposition – is frequently repeated throughout the rest of the film; it’s a curious stylistic choice for such an otherwise naturalistic feature. 

Broken seems to match To Kill a Mockingbird character-for-character, and throws in an additional one in Mike (played by Cillian Murphy), Skunk’s teacher and a love interest for Kasia. What it doesn’t match is the plot: there’s no trial here, only a pair of false accusations as Bob’s daughters get him to attack Buckley and then Mike. 

In place of plot, Broken throws its Ewells, Finches, and Boo Radley together in the same neighborhood, shakes things up, and sees what happens. This leads to a surprisingly unsatisfying conclusion that comes off as contrived and thematically muddled: there’s far too much coincidence going on in the film’s climax, and sudden shifts in the Radley and Bob Ewell characters feel all sorts of wrong (a key moment between the two of them has been altered from Clay’s novel).

That’s a shame, because until the climax Broken is a beautiful little film bolstered by a number of captivating performances, particularly young Laurence in the lead. While the parallels with Mockingbird might take away some of the film’s originality, it’s always best to borrow from the best – and it’s fascinating to see these beloved characters updated to present-day London.

Electirc Wave Bureau’s rendition Blur’s Colours beautifully serves as the film’s haunting theme. 

Also opening this week: 

  • Turbo (showtimes | IMDb), an animated family film from DreamWorks Animation. It’s screening in a Czech-dubbed version in Prague cinemas, but you can catch it in English at Cinema City Slovanský dům.
  • Tanec mezi střepinami (showtimes), a Slovak drama from director Marek Ťapák. Screening in Slovak. 

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