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Samantha Morton’s directorial debut The Unloved, aired on Channel 4 last night. Set in Nottingham, it follows the declining fortunes of Lucy (Molly Windsor) as she enters the UK care system. Morton herself grew up in care, in Nottingham, yet the film resists the trappings of biography by firmly locating its action in the present, with a harsh and uncompromising realist aesthetic ensuring against melodrama.

The film’s tight focus on an extremely vulnerable young girl, means that Morton cannot fail to move us emotionally. The presentation of Lucy’s plight succeeds in inviting the viewer to consider the care system, humanising a sector of the state that is too often abstracted in public discourse. Yet when Kirsty Wark asked the panel on Friday’s Newsnight Review whether the film had the power to “change policy?” I felt she was missing the point. Wark was clearly making a connection with Ken Loach’s 1967 TV play Cathy Come Home which bought homelessness (like care policy, a hitherto largely ignored theme in cultural exchanges) to the forefront of the national conversation, and was crucial in establishing the ‘Shelter’ charity. Despite borrowing heavily from Godard and Brecht in his 1960s work, there is a transparency about Loach’s didactic filmmaking which ensures the effective delivery of clear ‘messages’ relating to his socio-political themes. Loach’s films make pronounced statements about their subjects, using drama as a means of rendering an argument. The Unloved is different.

It is a film in which the presentation of feelings (loneliness and disconnection) is more immediately apparent then the distillation of a polemic. Lucy’s passive, almost empty characterisation, sees little of her emotional constitution manifest itself through dialogue. Instead Morton is able to map out the protagonist’s internal realm through a highly poetic palate:


The film is punctuated by these kinds of compositions, as Lucy’s frequent lone journeys through the streets enable a clear lyrical motif to emerge. This signals the development of a markedly figurative space through which Morton enables the viewer to comprehend poetically the sense of fragmentation that pervades Lucy. These impulses are made explicit in the frequent fantasy/dream sequences that interrupt the film’s surface realist appearance, further contributing to a rich study of trauma that is crucial to The Unloved’s unique tone.

Morton’s stylistic strategies also demonstrate a clear link to the poetic realist formations of the British New Wave cycle, as we see here:


This Sporting Life (Anderson, UK, 1963)

Picture 4

 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Reisz, UK, 1960)


The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Richardson, UK, 1962)

Indeed, as has been intimated previously in this blog such sublimated realist compositions continue to present themselves in the contemporary British cinema, and with The Unloved Samantha Morton joins a growing elite including the likes of Shane Meadows, Lynne Ramsey, Andrea Arnold, Duane Hopkins and Pawel Pawlikowski:

Picture 7

My Summer of Love (Pawlikowski, UK, 2004)


David Forrest

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