Tuesday 22nd January 2013
Skunk is 11, diabetic, and pretty cool. The summer holidays have just begun and her days are full of easy hopes. Then Mr. Oswald, the ugly man who lives opposite, beats up Rick, the sweet, but unstable boy next door after his daughter accuses the boy of rape, and Skunk's innocence begins to be drained away at a speed and in a way she cannot control. Her home, her neighbourhood, her school - all become treacherous environments where the happy certainties of childhood give way to a fear-filled doubt, and a complex, broken world fills her future. Skunk seeks solace in the last remaining place where she knows she can find it - the unspoken friendship with sweet, damaged Rick - and falls into a chaos where suddenly, joyfully, she has choice thrust back into her hands. The choice to remain in this place she was never promised, or to leave it entirely - to live or to die.
Published in April 2009, Daniel Clay's novel Broken offered a prescient vision of the Britain that ignited for a brief but unforgettable instant in the late summer of 2011, when the country's moral compass went momentarily berserk and pockets of rioting erupted throughout the UK. Narrated by Skunk, a little girl approaching her teenage years, who witnesses a brutal assault on her neighbour, it is a story that gets to the very heart of modern social dysfunction. Skunk sees the world almost literally from her bedroom window: across the road live the Buckley family, an older, very conservative couple whose son, for reasons they will never discuss, has issues they can never bring themselves to deal with. Next door are the Oswalds, a working-class family of three young girls and a father who, all equally, strike fear in to the local residents. And at home, with her lawyer father, brother and a live-in au pair, Skunk finds an oasis of some sorts. It's not perfect, but good enough.
Within these three households can be found a microcosm of Britain that isn't reflected in tabloids, broadsheets or TV bulletins. These are not traditional problem homes; there is love behind every door and every parent here wants what's right for their children. But the way that love shows itself is to have a violent effect on the neighbourhood. For the Buckleys, family is about privacy and respect, which is how the Oswalds see things too, but with a more aggressive interpretation of the word "respect". Skunk sees it all with fascination, from a place somewhere in between, He mother is long gone, having run off with another man, her father loving but often unavailable, devoted to his work. And where a mother should be, there is the au pair, caught up in a toxic romance with a man who, by a fluke of circumstance, will one day be Skunk's teacher at secondary school.
The book came to theatre director Rufus Norris via what he joking calls "insider trading", before its official publication date, when the book arrived, unsolicited, at the offices of literary agency Curtis Brown and was immediately passed on to Nick Marston, one of the senior agents there and Tally Garner. Together they run Cuba Pictures (now with Dixie Linder), the filmmaking wing of Curtis Brown and were immediately intrigued. "Nick also happens to also be my agent", recalls Norris, "and as well as giving it to screenwriter Mark O'Rowe, he also gave it to me".
It was within Curtis Brown and within Cuba, that the seeds of the film were sown. "I'd known Mark from years before", says Norris. "I'd done a little bit of work of his, on stage, in the past and we knew each other - I'd stayed with him in Dublin, many years earlier. So although we didn't know each other especially well, we did have some history. And then we started working together on it. He did a first draft, I had a look at it and then I started getting involved".
It was Nick Marston from Cuba who also approached BBC Films with the book in manuscript form and the idea for O'Rowe to adapt it. Joe Oppenheimer from BBC Films says, "We already knew Mark's writing well and one meeting was enough to convince us. Mark had such a clear sense of how he wanted to put the script together and we developed the script with Mark and Cuba Pictures". He continues, "The fact is, when you find a talent like Rufus and a script like this, it's BBC Films' job to throw their weight in behind them and make sure the film sees the light of day".
Why the move into film? Norris sees it as just a logical progression. "At various points in my career", he says, "various avenues have opened up. After the very first show I did, someone came to see it and said, 'Why don't you come and do some short films with me?' So it was never that I desperately wanted to be a film director, it just seemed to be the right time finally. I respond very much to fear as a motivating force! A fear of failure, I guess. And a lot of my decisions as a theatre director have been to try things that I've never done before. Stuff for which there is no template".
Describing the book as "harsher and more brutal" than the film script, Norris found himself fascinated by Skunk's journey. "I was incredibly engaged with it", he says, "particularly with the idea of following this story in the shoes of this very spirited young girl. I was just very interested in her, really. My children aren't so young now, but at that point when I read the book, four or five years ago, my eldest was the same age as Skunk. I think the story, or rather one aspect of it, is largely about parenting and the impossibility of parenting well - how you do your best and you always get it wrong. So I was drawn to that. I think it's dark, it's funny and in the end it's uplifting and those three things are always a good combo. I respond very much to strong emotional stories and this is very strong and emotional. It doesn't pull its punches, so it's quite hard".
Once Norris had expressed interest in directing the film, Dixie Linder was called in to produce the film. "I got involved", she says, "because Rufus directed a film called King Bastard in 2006, which I'd produced for him. I'd seen most of plays and loved his work and I could see from that short that his way of thinking was just as exciting on film and his attention to detail was amazing. While we were doing that he told me that he'd just read the novel Broken and we started talking from there. And then Cuba, who were developing it, asked me to come in and officially produce it for them".
Linder's first task was to acquaint herself with Clay's novel. "It's really important to know the source material", she says, "because sometimes writers are very loyal to the book and that's where they can have problems in the adaptation, because they feel that something that works very well in a book doesn't work so well on film. And I think that's a process you have to go through. Normally, I'd say the first draft is about being loyal to the book and the second draft is about letting go".
Says Norris: "I think Mark O'Rowe was quite wary of me at first. Because screenwriters in theatre - and Mark also works in theatre - are respected greatly there and given a lot of control over what actually gets said on stage. And if you're a director of new plays, your job is to deliver the play as the writer intends it, more or less. But in film, it's completely different and writers get sacked left, right and centre. So I think Mark was wary of yet another director coming in with big, heavy notes when he actually felt quite strong ownership of the piece".
Norris addressed the situation head on. "Because, I'm a director, I tend to think about solutions to problems rather than actually dig around to find the core of what the problem actually is and so I said to him, 'The bottom line is, you can say, at any time, "That's a load of shit". It's quite useful for me if you say why you think it's a load of shit, but you can say that. You're the writer. I'm not. But I am going to be interventionist.' And I think he thought, Yeah, yeah, I've heard all that before - the first time I actually say it's a load of shit I bet we'll fall out". But there was a great moment when we were literally sitting on a bench by a canal in Dublin, where we spent three days working together. He tried it out and he said, 'I think that idea's a load of shit.' He explained why and I said, 'Fine, forget it. Let's move on.' And I think he then thought, 'OK, this can be a dialogue.'"
Norris agrees that certain changes had to be made to ensure the transition to film, but thinks O'Rowe's screenplay captures its essence. "I hope the writer wouldn't disagree when I say that I think what we've done is to deepen the third dimension of certain characters. And we've certainly brought down the body count! But, yes, the writer of the book recognises his story, for sure!"
First to board the production was Cillian Murphy, who plays Skunk's schoolteacher, Mike Kiernan. "Cillian was very much the first person we went to for that part", says Norris, "because he has a relationship with Mark and I think he's fantastic. He almost said, 'Look, I'll do it anyway, if it's Mark.' Well, not quite. But he's very loyal and he's done a load of stuff with Mark. That was two years before we shot it and in the meantime he and I started looking for theatre work together. We'd have loved to have done a play in that time, but we didn't find the opportunity".
"I was involved right at the beginning", confirms Murphy. "I read the script and I loved it. It was one those scripts that you read and it leaves a big impression on you. It was very moving, even quite devastating, but funny and I'd never played a character like this before. I'd been a fan of Rufus's theatre work, so it was the whole package that appealed to me, really".
"When I met Rufus, I got on with him instantly", Murphy continues. "We have the same interests - same sorts of films, same sorts of theatre, He's got a wicked sense of humour and he just gets it. He knows about storytelling, he knows what's important, he knows what's funny. He understands actors really fundamentally and having someone like that as a director, is a massive advantage. Because you can go straight to work. You know, I really think that if you can tell stories full stop, then you're a storyteller and you can do that in theatre film or TV. He just understands the language of it".
After Murphy, the next key role to cast was Archie, which marks London-born Tim Roth's first British film in nearly ten years. "Tim got hold of the script, because he and Dixie go back a long way", says Norris, "and Dixie slipped him the script, quietly, with the idea that maybe he could play Bob Oswald, which, in a way, he is much more obvious casting for. And he came back immediately and said, 'I love this, it's fantastic, but I'm only interested in one part.' And when I talked to Dixie about it, she said, 'Well, actually, Archie is who he is.'
"Explains Linder, "I produced The War Zone, which Tim directed and we'd stayed in contact. And one thing I knew about Tim is that he's an amazing family man. I know that he puts his children before anything and there are sides of him that are Archie Cunningham. Reputations are hard to get rid of and people think of him as a hard guy. In Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, all those types of films, he's seen as cool and aggressive, so it was very hard to find footage of Tim where he was playing a caring father. But I definitely knew that he had many of Archie's traits".
By far the most important role to cast, however, was that of Skunk. "I think in the end we saw 850 girls", recalls Norris. "And Eloise Laurence came in very late - literally a couple of weeks before we started prep". Was that a concern? "Yeah!" he laughs. "I mean, here you've got a film that rests, as much as any film can do, on one performance. And it's a kid!"
Norris doubly complicated the process by looking for a first-timer. "The first people I saw for that, just to get a feeling for it, were girls who had done films before", he says, "and it was very clear to me that that wasn't the way to go. Skunk has a naivety and an openness about her. She doesn't have a side - she's not canny, in a knowing way. And that's just really tricky. If you're young, if you learn certain things - what makes people appreciate you - then you do it. And often the practice of going through a film or two accelerates the growing up process very quickly. So it is a responsibility. I mean, I've got children and when I sat down with Eloise's mother - who's a friend of mine and someone I've worked with - and asked her if he daughter would come in, she said, 'Would you let your kids do it?' And I said no, for that reason. But we were very, very lucky with Eloise, because she wants to be a singer. She doesn't want to be an actress, so she shrugged it all off".
Says Laurence, "I got involved because my mum had worked with Rufus three times before and she knew Rufus well. She found out he was looking for little girls - 11-year-old girls - to play a part in the film. And she thought it might be fun if I went up for it, so she asked him if he still needed a little girl. And he said, 'Yeah, why doesn't she come up?' I hadn't done any acting before, this was my first time, But I was just really excited about it, because it's one thing to see a movie, but to see it being done is even more fun. I didn't take acting classes or anything. But I did read the script over and over again, just so I could get familiar with it".
Working with children didn't daunt the director, who tailored the shoot to suit his leading lady. "I think it's really important to keep the atmosphere enjoyable", says Norris. "And there were certain times, towards the end of certain days, or the end of the week - and particularly towards the end of the shoot - when the level of 'controlled' chaos on set was borderline. I could see a few of the crew members being a bit wound up by it. But I wanted to keep a very, very relaxed atmosphere, so that Eloise, in particular, could have a nice time. When the moment came, she was focused. But there are 150 moments that are effectively her mucking about - we just took it into the scenes. I never really had to direct her, she's very, very natural. Either she's completely brilliant, or it was helped that we had an atmosphere of levity. I don't think anybody works well under constraint".
Says Laurence, "Rufus is really, really funny. He turns everything into a joke, which is nice. When he gives me notes, he doesn't just say, 'Do it a bit better,' he makes it into a joke and a laugh. And that's helped me to be a bit more at ease with the whole thing".
Linder confirms that the search for Skunk was not without its anxieties. "It's a real risk having a child actor as your lead", she says, "even if it's an ensemble piece. I don't know how one could ever make a film with a child in the lead and not think it's a risk. Even if the child's acted before, because maybe it was a one-off, or maybe they've become cocky since. But I remember Rufus saying at the end of the first day, 'The one thing I can really say about today is that we've got our Skunk.'"
Finding the street where this drama could play out would be one of the production's biggest challenges. "I draw everything for theatre", says Norris, "so it was natural for me to do pages and pages of what could loosely be called storyboards, although they're really not - they're more sort of emotional and not as ordered. And a lot of that was about the geography of what this close should be like. In the end, I think we covered every close - literally every close that you can see on the A To Z of London, or via Google Maps within five miles of London. And we found what I thought was the perfect space. We got there, I thought it was great and the designer thought it was great and then the first AD, then Dixie, then the DOP and the designer turned round and said, 'Actually, you know what? We can't shoot here.' I said, "Yes, we can,!'And they said, 'We can't.' Because the houses were so small, once we'd stuck a crew of eight in there as well as the actors, it was going to look tiny. We needed depth. And so we started again and found a new close".
Says Linder, "The geography of the close was absolutely crucial and there were very limited options, in a way. The first place we looked at, production-wise, was a disaster. But we had a great location manager who kept plugging away and the close she came up with worked brilliantly. Because it wasn't just about the look of the houses - the set-up was so specific, because it was a matter of being able to look into the other houses, see into other people's lives".
"It was very important is that these people should be on top of each other", says Norris. "From Skunk's window she should be able to look into Rick's bedroom and into the Oswald house. That triangle had to be there".
The Buckley Household - The Buckley house is where Skunk's story starts. David and Janet Buckley - played by Denis Lawson and Clare Burt - live there with their son Rick (Robert Emms) and a day like any other erupts into violence when neighbour Bob Oswald accuses Rick of forcing himself on his middle daughter. To all extent and purposes, the Buckleys are good, decent people, although their failure to deal with their son's condition is arguably the catalyst for the tragedy that follows. "I think of David as a very mild-mannered man", says Lawson. "I think his fault and the fault of his wife, is that we have a son who is obviously dysfunctional - and we never discuss that. It's the British temperament - you smooth everything over. Nothing is discussed - don't upset anyone. So there's a sense of carrying on as normal. They're determined, or too afraid, to do anything but pretend that everything is normal and all right. And it absolutely is not. And even when things become extreme with their son, there's still this desperate attempt to paper over the cracks".
Burt confirms that there is a unspoken problem in the Buckley house. "Our son Rick is... not all there", she says. "There could be various reasons for that, but nobody really knows. It could be psychological issues, lack of the right parental input, any reason. But my character over-protects, I suppose and is over-motherly towards him, which could play a significant role in that. But he's very protected by us and so when he's beaten up, it's how most people would feel but times 4,000".
Of the three households, the Buckley are slightly older that the others, even though their (only) child is barely out of his teens. "Dennis is older than me, although I'm playing older than my age", says Burt. "And I think what we wanted to hint at is that Rick is 'Last-Chance Harvey', or whatever the expression is when you have a child later on in life. So that was what we felt. I think it's a bit of a sad, quiet existence they have. They keep themselves to themselves. They like the Cunninghams, but to them the Oswalds are hideous full stop, the complete opposite of everything they hold dear. And Rick doesn't get out that often, because his parents have been protecting him from the world".
Playing the victimised Rick, Emms found a surprising amount of sympathy for his character. "Rick has an interesting journey", he says. "He's sort of lost in the whole thing, because there's only one scene where he's himself, if you like. Or the everyday him, that he's been for the last 23 years. He's shy and I suppose he's probably a little bit awkward. And he's very particular about things, which I think is something he gets from his father. At the beginning we see him washing the family car and he's very particular in the way he chooses to describe how to wash it. So he's not an average guy, but he's a sweet boy. Although you also get the feeling that he's very sensitive".
To reflect the interior of the Buckley household and indeed all the others, Norris called on the talents of two of his department heads - production designer Kave Quinn and cinematographer Rob Hardy. "In the Buckley house, Rick is cosseted and protected", explains Norris. "There's only one of him and the parents are a little older. So we wanted to get a feeling of that. But a simpler way into it is to talk about order and chaos and therefore what you do with the camera. And that is a house where they are trying to keep chaos outside the door, so it's all got to be ordered. Everything's tidy, everything's in place. So the camera is tracking or static. Very slow moves and never in the hand. It doesn't have any chaos to it, it's very controlled. There's a stagnation in the place, a heaviness. And it's full of love, but it's also full of fear - fear of the chaos that is outside".
The Oswald Household - The Oswald family are the scourge of the local area: bullish widower Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) and his three formidable daughters - in order of ascending age - Sunrise (Martha Bryant), Susan (Rosalie Kosky-Hensman) and Saskia (Faye Daveney). And just as he did with the casting of Roth as the low-key, focused Archie Cunningham, Norris decided to take a left turn with Bob Oswald by casting Kinnear, with whom he'd worked in a successful West End stage adaptation of the 1998 Danish film Festen. "The original description of the character of Bob Oswald was of a big chap in his 50s with tattoos and a bit of a skinhead haircut", says Kinnear, "and Rufus, I think, wanted to go against that and make the character a little more sympathetic. Partly by casting somebody who's not necessarily known for playing thuggish types. Although the part I played in Festen was a bit of a loose cannon, which is what Bob is as well. So maybe he had seen that quality in me before".
Bob Oswald's violent tendencies are clear from the start, when he rips off his shirt and launches himself at Rick Buckley in the mistaken belief that his daughter Susan has been raped. "Bob is characterised in the movie by the violent actions he undertakes", says Kinnear, "and the implications and resonance of those two actions are felt throughout the rest of the film. But at the same time, he's a guy who's been probably recently widowed. He's got three children under the age of 17 and he's trying to keep that family together. So his violence is driven by a love for his daughters. Or rather one daughter in particular, because she's the one spreading the lies! And although they're not actions you would condone as being positive, they are borne out of love".
"They're the bad family on the estate", says Roth. "Those kids, they're hilarious. And what comes out of their mouths is shocking". Bryant, who plays Sunrise, confirms that her character is "rude and a bully", although the older girls are somewhat more shaded. "My character's about 14 and very promiscuous", says Kosky-Hensman. "We haven't got a mum and Susan's going through that stage when boys are finding her attractive, so it just feels nice that she's being paid attention to. She feels loved, so she sleeps around. Susan's not as boisterous as the others - but she's got it in her blood".
"Saskia's the eldest sister", says Daveney. "She's about 17, about I think she feels that she has to take on the mum role, because they're growing up without one. She's trying to look after these two and being very, very defensive. She'll go after anyone she thinks is horrible to them and she does it through aggression, because their dad's so aggressive. But she's a bit stupid. She hasn't got any common sense. She only knows aggression and violence and that's how she deals with things".
"Sunrise is probably the cleverest out of all of us", notes Kosky-Hensman. "She runs the ship and she knows what's going on. She's got plans, she's conniving. She's a hustler, actually!"
Norris has a surprising amount of affection for the Oswald house. "It's a house in grief", he notes, "in a way. That might not be how it appears, but that's one of the defining features of it. The head of the household isn't there and as a consequence the kids have gone wild. Again, it's full of love - all three household are - and the children are very, very loved. But it's an inappropriate kind of parenting. Bob doesn't have anywhere to put his anger, so it goes all over the place. And he's very inappropriately protective of them. There are no boundaries".
Again, this was where Quinn and Hardy came in. "We put the camera in the hand all the time", says Norris. "In terms of decoration, nothing's complete. He's started one job and it's not finished. The job of bringing up his kids is not finished, so the job of painting the wall is also not finished and there's scaffolding outside the house. He's bought them a trampoline, but he hasn't got round to putting it in the back garden, so it's in the front garden and it becomes an aggressive thing instead of a recreational thing, somehow. And the camera is untethered - because the family is untethered".
Adds Linder, "The Oswalds' house is obviously chaos. I love the idea that Bob Oswald was in the middle of decorating of his house but has never finished it and it's hideous. But there is also the idea that, although Mrs Oswald has died, the house still has a feminine touch. So you have this very masculine man with three daughters who's trying to make sure theres a little bit of femininity in the house, even though it's a little skewiff".
The Cunningham house - Although the Cunningham household is perhaps the base of the movie. Home to Archie Cunningham (Tim Roth), his daughter Skunk (Eloise Laurence), son Jed (Bill Milner) and live-in au pair Kasia (Zana Marjanovic). "The Cunningham house was by far the most difficult of the three", says Norris, "because it falls between the other two. There is a certain amount of freedom given to the kids, partly because their father is distracted but also because he's a good father. But they're also missing a parent, from much further back, So this is a way they've been for a long time. So, again, you track some shots, in a way so that it's alive - there's a feeling of life to it. And it can go either away: when the adults are around, it tends to be a bit more still, but when it's with the kids, it's a bit more loose. That was the tricky one and the majority of scenes were in the tricky one".
Although he's a good father, Archie Cunningham isn't perfect. "He's a solicitor, but kind of low-end, I think", says Roth. "He's a single dad, he has a housekeeper and he's bringing up two kids, a boy and a girl. He's a very simple but also a very straightforward guy. He has the worst suit, which he wears all the time and horrible ties! But he doesn't care. He doesn't notice that stuff at all. He's a suit guy and he forgets that he's got in on in the house".
"They're not quite the standard family", says Milner. "The mother isn't there, but they've got Kasia, who sort of is their mother. She's been there long enough to discipline the kids but also be that loving mother figure. But aside from that, they're quite conventional. They're not strange or quirky".
For Milner, the part of Jed - who becomes sexually involved with the middle Oswald girl - was a chance for the Son Of Rambow star to do something new. "I was looking forward to getting into this character because it was different to what I'd played before. I don't want to play the same character all the time - I used to always play those sort of wimpy kids and I think Jed's a bit different. He's an interesting character; he's not as simple as first meets the eye. He makes out that he's this macho teenager who's really cool and doesn't care about his family. But once you get to know him you realise he's actually quite a sweet boy. Quite a lot of the time he doesn't want to be that teenager; he still wants to be a child".
As Skunk, Laurence is both the baby of the household and yet in some ways older than her years. "Skunk is strong-hearted and adventurous", says Laurence. "She witnesses things that not many little girls - well, not many 11-year-old girls - witness and yet she doesn't really let it get in the way. She is like me in some ways. She has an older brother, which isn't the same and there are some other things that aren't exactly the same, but, basically, she's like another version of me".
To prepare for the shoot, Roth and the two children planned some bonding time in the short window before filming started. "I booked an afternoon with Bill and Eloise", says Roth, "and we went out and mooched around London. Because I hadn't been in London for ages! So we went out and did lots of silly tourist stuff. I took pictures of them and we just had a bit of a day out. And I think that helped, just with nobody about but us. I'd already worked with Bill [in Skellig, 2009] and Elly's such an up-for-it kid that it was a nice way to start. Then we worked through the script with Rufus, figured out the scenes a little bit ahead of time and perhaps made a few changes as we went".
As well as Archie, Skunk and Jed there is also Kasia, the live-in au pair whose boyfriend Mike Kiernan (Cillian Murphy) will play a key part in the story. "She's the au pair working for a family where she's helping a father raise two kids", says Marjanovic. "She's obviously more than just an au pair, because she is raising those kids - in the full meaning of the word. She spends so much time with them; the father works late, so she is the one who's responsible for them. I think they're just a regular family, one that's full of love. She's tough on them - she's old school, I would say, when it comes to raising children. But I think it works well for her".
Kasia's tempestuous relationship with Mike is a subplot that will end in an unexpected development for both the Cunninghams and Kiernan, much to the latter's dismay. "I've worked with Mark O'Rowe a couple of times", says Murphy, "on a movie called Intermission and another called Perrier's Bounty. And what Mark does, I think, is that he writes males very well. He understands the male psyche and its weaknesses, in particular the average man's tendency to procrastinate and put his life on hold a bit. This isn't in the script, but Mike is one of those guys who has aspirations to be a writer or an artist but has found his life drifting. He's hit 35 and he's gone. 'Right, I'd better become a teacher.' But he finds he's quite good at teaching, he has a good connection with the kids, And then he has a relationship with Kasia, who's Skunk's nanny. And again, he's just letting that drift. He's not stepping up. And he's just about to get his life together when all the shit hits the fan".
To become a bookish schoolteacher was not, he said, a particular stretch. "I come from a long line of teachers", he reveals. "My mum and dad are teachers, my grandfather was a headmaster. And my aunties and uncles are teachers. So I feel that I have an understanding of what it means to be a teacher! And I think the film also reflects the way teaching now has become so restricted. It's really hard for teachers just to react in a human way to things nowadays".
Music was very important to Norris, but the way to go about scoring Broken would be anything but obvious. "All my theatre work has music in it", he says. "I've done operas, musicals, a lot of new-music theatre and in almost everything I have live music, but I'm very, very passionate about the source of the music coming from the content. By that I mean I think that you can't have a band onstage if there isn't a band in the show. And you certainly can't get a bit of classical music and stick it over the top of a scene, just to make people feel more emotionally connected to what's going on. I absolutely hate it with a vengeance in theatre - it completely ruins it for me. But in film you can do whatever the hell you like!" He laughs. "You really can! As long as you do it deftly".
To help with the score, Norris turned to a musical collective called Electric Wave Bureau, whose members include Suzi Winstanley, Nelson De Freitas, Mike Smith and Damon Albarn. Says Norris, "Two of them" - meaning Albarn and Smith - "were heavily involved in Dr Dee, which I did last year in Manchester and I'm doing at the ENO. I was hoping they would do it, but they're kind of busy and it wasn't until we started working on Dr Dee again, for the Cultural Olympiad and when we sat down for the first session for that, that one of them said, 'How's the film going?' I said, 'Well, it would be good to have a minute on that when we're done today,' and they said, 'Let's have a minute now.' I said, 'Will you do it?' And they said yes. Which was great; I already had a robust working relationship with them and we'd already done a big show that was put on under pressure".
From his research into film scores, Norris noticed some recurring elements. "I realised that there were times when I really enjoyed the music", he says, "and that was when it had an identity. Y'know, form from content - it felt it was rooted and it went all the way through. It wasn't a bit here and there, it came from a palette. And the palette here was to do with Skunk and her take on the world. So a lot of the instruments that we use are a little bit broken, or a little bit childish. An old harmonium or a marimba. And then you take liberties and move outside of that".
Formed in August of 2011, Electric Wave Bureau see themselves as very much a loose, organic team, with a flexible approach to what's needed. "The great thing about doing a score is having four brains, says Smith. "We've all brought something to the table". Adds Winstanley, "Collaboration is the most wonderful thing - two is better than one, three is better than two and four is better than three. One of us might pick up an instruments and say, 'What about using this?' For example, the kalimba, which features heavily in the score, was something I'd picked up in Iceland".
Says Smith, "Sitting down and deciding what we were going to use - our palette - was the hardest thing to decide on. Because each instrument has to be key to a certain character. So it was a question of trying things out, seeing what they sounded like". And although Norris left the team to their own devices, to a certain degree, Winstanley says that they always had guidance. "Rufus is really a music guy", she says. "He knew the flavour he wanted, he understands music in that way".
The first thing to emerge was a song called Colours, which would be sung by Laurence with lyrics partly used by Norris to reflect certain, specific scenes. "That song did actually help set the tone", says Smith. "Acoustic guitar, harmonium, melodica - very, I guess, close instruments. Because it is a personal story. So we didn't want to make anything too grandiose". Adds Winstanley, "We were thinking, initially, of instruments that children might be able to play, so we put some recorders in there and bells".
"We just wrote a lot of music", says Smith, "and then saw where that music might work and how we might tie the various themes - or strands of music - together, to bring the story into focus. Rufus was very clear that we weren't going to use strings. But there's a point in the film where there's a real gear change in the movie - real emotion - so we brought the strings there and it really made an impact". Says Albarn, "We had a very limited budget, but we made that work for us in a good way. We had to be inventive and quick and intuitive. And then we were able to have the strings to articulate the emotion of the story in a more conventional but still powerful way".
The Themes Of The Film
The finished movie, like Daniel Clay's novel, doesn't offer any easy answers. "It's almost hard to pigeonhole this film", says Lawson, "because it's got a lot of layers to it. On the one hard it has a lot of charm, but then it's quite dark and occasionally violent. And it's also very emotional. So it's quite a mix. If you could say anything, it's an examination of families and how they interrelate with in the family unit, but it's also about they interrelate across this little cul de sac where they all live. How one event from one family impinges on another - it spills out and causes a bit of mayhem".
But although it deals with social issues - and violence and aggression in many forms, especially in Britain - many of the key cast and crew see the film has having a more universal theme. Says Murphy, "I think it's a film about family and love and how that love is expressed. For example, Bob Oswald I don't think is a bad father, he just expresses his love in a very unhelpful way. He's not that different to Archie and Skunk in that respect. Both those families are broken and every family in the movie is 'broken' in some way,. But I'm reluctant to prescribe messages with films. I think it's up to the audience. But I don't believe it's a message film. Although I do think it's a truthful film".
"I certainly think that people will recognise the characters in this film", he continues. "They're very, very honestly portrayed, in that nobody's exceptional - they're just in exceptional circumstances. And its heavy themes are dealt with with a very light touch, That's the skill of the writer and also the director - the natural human reaction to pain and suffering is sometimes to laugh and that's what happens here. So I do think the levity of the film often tempers the heaviness of the themes". Although Roth left Britain some 20 years ago to pursue a successful career in film and TV in America, he recognises that Broken is a valid reflection of the country today. He says, "I was watching what they called 'The Riots' - I don't know if that's actually what they were - and I was completely unsurprised by any of it. I thought it was just... incoming. I was just surprised that it wasn't more heavy. It could have been more heavy. So, yeah, I think this story is kind of timely and it seems to be appropriate to be making films like this".
For Dixie Linder, Broken is a social inkblot test and believes that reactions to this multifaceted film are likely to vary. "I think it's a very personal film", she says, "and it will be personal to people with very different types of lives. Because I think there's something in it that everyone can relate to, whatever background or country you come from. For me, the personal story I take is the father-daughter relationship and that's something I respond to. I've always been interested in the dynamics of the family and since becoming a parent I've become fascinated by different types of parenting. You can talk about the film in many different ways. You can say that it's about the broken society we live in and the slightly disparate lives that people lead within it, but to me it's a father-daughter relationship. And yet it's also about one little lie about how one little lie sets off an amazing series of events - and how, for some people, the human spirit can never be broken".
Norris, having locked the film, is prepared to let the work speak for itself. "I do find it hard to talk about these things", he muses. "Like, 'What's the piece saying?' Well, I don't know, I think it would say different things to different people. For me, because of where I'm at in my life, I'm completely with all the parents in the piece. I think it's about parenting and how you nurture other people - in the broadest sense also, because it has to do with neighbours and how these people are stuck together. We're totally interdependent, so it's a good idea not just to have boundaries but also to understand what good social behaviour is. You can't just lock yourself away. You can't protect yourself from other people by locking the door. Neither can you endlessly get away with trying to dominate other people. Just because that's what you want doesn't mean that's what you need. So it's a film about interdependence and compassion, compassion as a necessary social skill".
He does, however, confirm that, for him, despite its bleaker moments, the film ends on a positive note. "Yeah", he nods, "I'm an optimist. And Skunk's an optimist too. In the end, I think, if you're making a film where you're centring on one character, you, as the director and the author, have absolutely got to put yourself in the shoes of that character. And she's me. She's the daughter I never had but would like to have had and she's who I am. I'm a bit offbeat, not very cool and utterly optimistic. But enquiring. And that's who she is. I'm not a depressive at all. I love life. And I think that's really important. If you're going to go that dark, to put an audience through that much stuff, you have to come out going, "But it's all right!" He laughs. "Choose life... !"