He’s lost his mum, his older brother’s in and out of jail, his little sister is playing truant, and when he’s not fending off bailiffs at his council-house door, George MacKay is increasingly afflicted by a mystery illness scarring his hands and body. Welcome to another portrait of ‘broken Britain’, as post-industrial decline breeds unemployment, breeds crime, breeds families falling apart.
Seven years on from his noted debut ‘Better Things’, British writer-director Duane Hopkins continues in the same vein of bleak hyper-realism. He’s sound on societal analysis, evidently marvellous with young actors (MacKay is truly heartbreaking), but still pouring so much full-on expressive intensity into every single scene that the catalogue of hardship plateaus early and has nowhere left to go. The humanity of Hopkins’ vision, shining a light on these hardscrabble lives and unenviable choices, is never in doubt. His film is suffused with empathy and radiates dignity. What’s lacking is directorial awareness of the misery threshold which sends viewers bailing out, and indeed the time audiences need to take in the emotional consequences of MacKay’s demanding rite of passage. Impressive, yet flawed.