The Unloved

 

The Unloved

Written by Toni Grisoni

Based on Original Material from and Developed by Samantha Morton

Produced by Kate Ogborn & Mike Elliott

Edited by Colin Monie

Cinematography by Tom Townend

Directed by Samantha Morton

2009


Cast:

Molly Windsor

Lauren Socha

Robert Carlyle

Susan Lynch

Craig Parkinson

Andrea Lowe

 

Studio:

Theatrical: EM Media & Film4

Video: Oscilloscope Laboratories

 

Video:

Resolution: 480i

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Codec: MPEG-2

Runtime: 108 minutes

Chapters: 14

Region: All

 

Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Subtitles

English SDH

 

Extras:

• Samantha Morton Interview with David Poland (16:10)

• 5 Deleted Scenes

• 6 Oscilloscope trailers

 

Presentation:

Custom gatefold paper DVD case w/ slipcover

Release Date: May 24, 2011



Product Description:

2009 BAFTA winner for Best Drama made for Television, The Unloved is the work of co-writer Toni Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and award winning actress Samantha Morton in her first directorial effort.  As is made clear in the closing credits, the screenplay is based on original material from and developed by Samantha Morton. It may come as no surprise that the movie is semi-autobiographical and shot in the area Morton lived in as a child.


               

 

The Movie: 7>

The movie is an impressionistic child’s eye view of the government-run system for dealing with children of domestic violence. “The Unloved” may be a little histrionic for a title, but in the present case it is entirely apt.  The title card does not appear until the end of the film just after this message: “71,476 children are in care in the U.K.  36,405 are on the “At Risk” register.”  While the story fictionally focuses on one of those children, her story speaks for all of them.


Lucy (Molly Windsor) is eleven.  She lives with a father who loves her but is ill-equipped to deal with his daughter’s needs and response to her dissociated life.  He all too easily resorts to violence, as men do when they feel powerless or out of control.  Lucy has been in the “system” before and calls on her social worker to step in, but all that is available is a chaotic, if well-meaning group home for children of various ages.  She is directed to room with Lauren (Lauren Socha) a girl some five years older and two or three times her size.  Lauren doesn’t like the idea of giving up her privacy, but sooner rather than later she and Lucy form a bond of sorts.


               


Lauren enjoys partying, sex, shoplifting and drugs, but contrary to the way all this would likey play out in an American film, she does not invite Lucy into this world directly.  It’s more like parallel play, where the occupy the same place but at two entirely different planes of emotional and behavioral development.  At one point when Lauren is arrested for shoplifting Lucy tells the police what happened without the slightest hesitation (well-mannered she remains despite the brutality in her life) nor moralizing.  When Lauren is returned to the group home (in short order at least) she does not get into Lucy’s face for ratting on her.  I found there was something very refreshing and adult about that.


Lucy frequently asks the question “Can I go and stay with my mom?”  It’s a question that her case worker and other authorities cannot answer to anyone’s satisfaction - yet it is the reason for Lucy’s frequent “absconding”.  All they can say is that “it’s up to the courts” - which is as true as it is irrelevant to the child’s experience of the problem.


               


Religious faith is prominent in this movie because it was for Samantha. Lucy’s fantasies often incorporate religious iconography and she is like to substitute her own parents for the saintly Christian figures.  It keeps her going even if she never cries and rarely smiles.


And now I must be critical of Ms Morton, first directorial effort or no, because of an odd and perturbing thing that happens at the end of her movie. It is so unusual that I feel the need to spend a disproportionate amount of space sorting it out.  The final scene is a long held shot of Lucy as she sits at the back of a bus, reminiscent of that classic moment at the end of The Graduate between Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross.  The association is doubtless deliberate since in both cases we are forced to ask “What next?” for these people.  The shot is filmed in what appears to be pure Dogma style without the help of lighting artifice.  As the bus ambles along, strong swathes of window light falls across Molly’s face for uncomfortably long periods.  When this occurs it is evident she is in some distress - for two reasons, I suspect: the one, that the light bothers her; the other, that she appears to be is instructed not to look away - else she would.  I feel the actress’s discomfort, and I am disturbed by it.


               


I suspect a conflict of obligations is partly to blame.  Molly is not only invested in her character, she is invested in pleasing her director.  If so, then Molly does not have “informed consent.” - She is a child, she wants to please her director and she cannot cry “uncle.”  I am at a loss to explain the need to inflict this level of pain on a child just to get a shot.  The photographer in me screams out for the carelessness of it all, since the workaround is obvious. 


Moreover, because I am now concerned for Molly rather than Lucy, the dramatic point of the effect, whatever that was, is now undermined by my astonishment that the director and the DP would allow this to happen after having made a film in which adults take advantage of children without their consent.  (Samantha makes something of this very business in the bonus interview when she speaks of her own life as a sixteen year old.)


Just to be clear, it’s not that Molly is put at risk in this shot, but she is in distress. Molly does in fact look away - a couple of times. All the same, this is an eleven year old child - with blue eyes no less - not an adult who can and would complain.  And while this certainly doesn’t rise to the level of child abuse, it is baffling nonetheless, and it ruins an otherwise decent and well-intentioned film.


               


Critical Reaction:

[The Independent]

First shown on Channel 4 last year, this drama about an 11-year-old girl who ends up in a care home has the grit of lived experience.  That would be because its director, the actress Samantha Morton, was herself given up to care at a similar age, so she knows whereof she speaks. Lucy (Molly Windsor – extraordinary) is a quiet, clear-eyed girl who, having suffered the abuse and neglect of her parents (Robert Carlyle and Susan Lynch), is consigned to a chaotic care home where a tough older girl, named Lauren (Lauren Socha), offers a sort of friendship: she takes her on a shoplifting spree. Morton, framing every shot with tact and patience, poignantly evokes the burden of isolation and abandonment Lucy feels, and perhaps too the dread of a similar future to the sexually abused Lauren. A few of the more lyrical touches don't quite come off, but in general this has a visual and dramatic punch that does credit both to its young star and its first-time director. – Anthony Quinn


               

 

[Eye for Film]

Without being strident or looking for scapegoats, the film shares [Ken] Loach’s slow-burning anger at a society which allows such things to happen and, interestingly, it also has his interest in the power of religion (particularly in Raining Stones, one of his finest works) to at least offer hope of some alternative to a bleak reality.


Some of Morton’s symbolism is a little overdone (a faun in a churchyard, lamplit images of Our Lady). The narrative meanders in places and some of the supporting characters are a little underdeveloped, but generally she creates a striking and inventive piece of work that many more experienced directors would give their right arms for. And she coaxes universally impressive performances from her cast.

Windsor and Socha, both spotted via local auditions, are excellent, catching the girls’ combination of enforced maturity and childish innocence perfectly. Carlyle (whose breakthrough role was in Loach’s Riff-Raff) and Lynch are equally effective as parents who basically love their daughter but are so inadequate as to be dangerous. And there’s an excellent supporting turn from Craig Parkinson (who played Tony Wilson in the Joy division biopic Control, where Morton starred as Ian Curtis’ wife) as Ben, the home worker whose matey persona masks a sinister reality. Not a Friday night feel-gooder by any stretch, and its low-key, largely understated aesthetic means its natural home probably was as a TV drama. But if you missed it and want to see an example of powerful, committed British cinema, then seek it out. And both Morton the director and Windsor the actress will be names to watch in the future. – Jeff Robson


               


[ScreenJabber]

Originally shown on the UK's Channel 4, The Unloved is utterly bleak and sad, but it resists the temptation to resort to melodrama or clichés. Instead, subtle scenes and gestures are left to speak for themselves: Lucy hugging her father despite the way he’s treated her, the gut-wrenching scene in which Lucy asks her mother if she can stay with her. It isn’t saying that being in care is shit; instead, it’s an insight into what it feels like to pass through a system that takes hurt, confused, angry children and heaps more hurt on top. – Anne Wollenberg


               


Extras: 5

Journalist David Poland interviews Samantha Morton at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival in nice 16x9 anamorphic image, intercut with honest-to-goodness full size excerpts from the movie.  Ms. Morton speaks of her growing up years in the U.K. child care “system”, and the historical context then and since; her own idea for the story and how that developed into the movie, the casting of Lucy; and her thinking about how she shot the film, especially why she lingers as long as she does on Lucy. She comments on her influences and her choice of crew.  It’s a sparkling interview and well worth your time.


The other relevant bonus item is a selection of five deleted scenes, varying in length from 30 seconds to 8:25 minutes.  For the most part these are in very watchable condition despite their being letterboxed.  Unfortunately there is no Play All function.  Oscilloscope tacks on several trailers currently available on DVD and/or Blu-ray (Wendy and Lucy; Treeless Mountain; The Law; The Messenger; The Exploding Girl; Exit Through the Gift Shop).  This is one instance where the advertising is worth exploring.


               

 

Image: 8/6

Filmed in what must be the dreary season in and around Nottingham.  Oscilloscope gets points for not giving into the temptation of pumping up the contrast in what are often some mighty flatly lit scenes.  Nor is there evidence of edge enhancement or brightening or other transfer issues.  There’s a close-up of Lucy looking up at a high wall where the wind tousles her hair.  I’ve seen many a high-def image that doesn’t capture the silky lightness of being that is evident in her hair.  Very fine.


               

 

Audio & Music: 8/7

The story takes place in that part of England an hour or so’s drive from Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham and where they speak a version of English that might require subtitles translation.  There is occasional shouting yet it never gets shrill or distorted.  Even so, don’t feel you’re above bringing on the subtitles.  I have a feeling the music is going to be a love-hate thing for some - it was for me.  Pretty much all of the commercial recordings are well used dramatically and powerfully scored into the mix, especially - and I surprise myself in saying so - the 5.1 surround.  The delicacy of all the environmental effects from the hush of passersby to the wisp of leaves rustling is striking as is the subtle parts of the score that calls to mind wind chimes.  Alas, director Morton’s insistence on lingering on Lucy as she does - a decision I am generally in complete sympathy with - can at times be accompanied by some of the loudest part of the score.  In the interview Morton comments on this very thing, saying what she is after is a feeling generated by the effect.  However, what I felt was antagonism, a feeling she would probably understand - but I don’t.  And feeling without understanding is risky business in a movie.


               

 

Recommendation: 7

You ay not feel nearly as strongly about the final shot as I did, but in any case Samantha Morton’s film is worth watching and a worthy first directorial effort.  I found the experience to be generally more positive than some other reviewers if for no other reason than I have faith in the power of children, and Lucy i particular, to overcome the most wrenching family separations and alternative life experiences.  Ms. Morton’s movie does not damn the system for trying, which s something of a relief as well.  Clearly we are a flawed species, but the great majority of us want the best for our children.


               


 

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 1, 2011



 

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