Cracks is the debut feature of Jordan Scott, daughter of Sir Ridley and niece of Tony Scott. So she’s continuing the directorial legacy of a high pedigree lineage. And while this reputation may come with added expectations, it also comes with all the perks of being a Child of the House of Scott.
Now, far be from me to accuse the great Sir Ridley of nepotism, but it must be nice, from a creative point of view, to be working with a cinematographer like John Mathieson (Gladiator, Kingdom Of Heaven) on your first major gig.
Griping aside, Cracks is a cracking little period piece that tackles that classically British obsession of female sexual frustration/repression. Add in a smattering of lesbianism, shades of social conditioning, a splash of mental illness and the dark spectre of child abuse, and the scene is set for an engrossing drama driven by powerful central performances.
Set in 1934 at an elite girls’ boarding school on Slaley Island, Northumberland, the story centres on the glamorous diving teacher, Miss G (Eva Green, Casino Royale) and her team, lead by their bossy captain, Di (Juno Temple). There are signs that Di and Miss G have a close relationship, closer than perhaps is strictly appropriate, and Di certainly idolises the worldly Green, who not only inspires the team, but also beguiles them with tales of her many travels.
In effect, Miss G gives the girls purpose, and helps to mask the melancholic sense of parental abandonment they all feel, giving these young women an authority figure that is more like a big sister confidant than matriarchal schoolmistress.
This equilibrium is upset by the arrival of Fiamma (María Valverde), the daughter of a Spanish diplomat that has had to flee the country. The exotic and feminine Fiamma, already more of a woman than a girl, not only threatens the established hierarchy within the girls’ group but seems to awaken something within Miss G. And as the little hints of Green’s insecurities and idiosyncrasies are slowly revealed, the gnawing sense of murky mystery grows.
Scott focuses her narrative, which is adapted from a novel by Sheila Kohler, on the shifting dynamics within the lead’s power triangle. The hero/villain/victim roles are ever changing, which adds pace and fluidity to the story. It also allows the actors a perfect chance to express range.
Juno Temple, a young actress whose impressive CV will have been greatly enhanced by the complexities of the emotional constructs she displays, thoroughly steals the show (despite Green’s more obviously ostentatious character).
Unsurprisingly for a film based around teenage girls, the atmosphere is drenched in sexuality. “Desire is the most important thing in life,” Miss G tells her girls. The slow motion diving sequences are lush and sensual (this is where the aesthetic influence of cinematographer John Mathieson is most keenly evident), while the motion capture shot of flowers blooming isn’t the most sophisticated of metaphors.
And, just in case you were really slow on the uptake, the skinny dipping scene telegraphs the whole shebang for you. On a side note, I’m hardly a prude, but is including voyeuristic shots of half naked girls (some of whom are only meant to be fourteen or so) lasciviously frolicking in the moonlight really necessary (and yes, Green’s there too, chaps)?
Where Cracks breaks down is, ironically, in Green’s breakdown. What starts with a few stolen glances and an unreciprocated sense of connectional kinship with Fiamma, soon develops into a full-blown obsession. Fair enough, Miss G is not quite the free spirited Thoroughly Modern Millie she makes out to be, but her decent into the depths of the ‘sexually frustrated crazy women’ archetype seems forced.
No doubt, the book would have given her character the space to fill-out, but Scott seems happy to assume that the audience will make the connections themselves. I’m normally the first to moan about clunky exposition, but Miss G would have benefited from some back-story cultivation, which would also have given the main story credence.
That is taking away nothing from Green, whose performance is excellent. She may even have an outside run at an Oscar nomination if the film does well. Temple, if there is any justice, should also get a Best Supporting Actress nod.
The whole production is very impressive. Scott shows some structural inexperience, but has coaxed fine turns from her cast. And she gets the airy atmosphere of magic realism right, while it looks unremittingly superb throughout (one suspects Dad may have had some creative input here).
Cracks positions itself as a sort of mix between Heavenly Creatures, Notes On A Scandal and Lord Of The Flies. And while perhaps a little too obvious in places (and obscure in others), it certainly holds up well within its sphere of influences.
A perfect example of a low-key, indie flick that may just gather a bit of award buzz if some of this season’s more high profile features fail to impress.