Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Juno Temple, building on the early promise she showed in Atonement, is superb as Di, fragile and sympathetic even at her most unpleasant."

Passionate friendships between adolescent girls have become as much a staple of cinematic fare as risqué comedies about boys of the same age. Set in the heady environment of an isolated boarding school and complicated by the presence of a charismatic teacher with whom all the girls are infatuated, Cracks has beautiful cinematography, a heady classical soundtrack, gorgeous clothes, poetry, flowers, and everything else you might expect of the genre. Yet this isn't really a film about that fantasy of youthful innocence at all - it's a film about its nature as fantasy, and about the terrible things that can happen when this collides with the real world.

At the centre of this film is former Bond girl Eva Green, utterly compelling as the vivacious, sophisticated Miss G. As head of the school diving team she is adored by her little clique of girls, especially the bullying yet sensitive Di, who is painfully in love with her. On first seeing Miss G striding through the school in her sharply cut, stunningly sexy Thirties clothes, one wonders if she understands what she's doing, what effect she is bound to have on these emotionally turbulent, attention-starved girls. She laughs, she smiles, she tells them that desire is the most important thing in life, and their eyes - along with the viewer's - are riveted on her wherever she goes. Then the film's tone darkens with the creeping realisation that perhaps she does know what she's doing. Enter new girl Fiamma, a Spanish aristocrat far from home, isolated and vulnerable, just the kind of girl who might be perceived as in need of a special friend, and Miss G's behaviour grows more and more disturbing.

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As the daughter of Ridley, Jordan Scott was never going to get an easy time of it from the critics, and here she has been accused of heavy-handedness - yet it seems entirely appropriate that she should approach the film with crude intensity, as such is the nature of the fantasy on which it all hinges. It's important that we understand that it's over the top, that it's unhinged - and that in a sense, if we have bought into the romantic promise of the film's early scenes, we are complicit in it. Fiamma is just a girl with her own private feelings and concerns who seems to have found herself in the wrong story, fighting desperately to regain control of her own narrative. Meanwhile the jealous Di has her own journey to make, letting go of her illusions and learning things about the adult world that nobody is ever truly ready for.

Yet the film is more complex again than this. Even as it darkens, Green's performance keeps a grip on audience sympathy. Just who is this mysterious woman with her wild tales of adventure? Has she really done all the exciting things she talks about? Why does her diving team train all the time but never compete? The girls are also training for life in the real world, but it's not clear that Miss G, behind whose back men snigger, could ever find a place there. To what extent has she hidden in dangerous fantasy in order to survive?

Juno Temple, building on the early promise she showed in Atonement, is superb as Di, fragile and sympathetic even at her most unpleasant; she reveals youthful vulnerability alongside a formidable urge to take control, and it's difficult to imagine any other actress of her age holding her own so well alongside Green. The older actress, meanwhile, delivers an astonishingly brave performance which can move in a split second from thrilling or seductive to terrifying. If she wanted to establish herself as more than just a pretty face, she certainly chose the right role. Finally, María Valverde, as Fianna, exhibits the same quality of detachment she used to such effect in Ladrones, tempting the audience, too, to objectify her. The result is a powerful and complex film with a lot more to say than is apparent on the surface. Dive in.

Reviewed on: 23 Nov 2009
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A tale of misguided love and obssession in an isolated girls' school in the Thirties.
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Richard Mellor ***1/2

Director: Jordan Scott

Writer: Ben Court and Caroline Ip, based on the book by Sheila Kohler.

Starring: Eva Green, Juno Temple, María Valverde, Imogen Poots, Ellie Nunn, Adele McCann, Zoe Carroll, Clemmie Dugdale, Sinéad Cusack, Laurence Richardson, Vanessa Lunnon, Gerry Shanahan, Kitty McLaughlin-Dunning, Judy Donovan

Year: 2009

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Ireland


London 2009

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