Perfect 10

 

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A British drama with special appeal for female audiences, teenagers most of all.

 
Perfect 10

  

Right at the heart of Eva Riley's first feature as both writer and director is a girl in her early teens growing up on the outskirts of Brighton. This is Leigh played by Frankie Box, a girl who, following the death of her mother, is living with a father (William Ash) who is not a very good parent. In these circumstances Leigh seeks solace in gymnastics. It had been her mother who had first encouraged her to take this up and, having a helpful coach in Gemma (Sharlene Whyte), she has found in this world something of an escape. She has become good enough to be seen as somebody who ought to take part in an upcoming competition but her father won't cough up the cash required.

 

Box herself has experience as a gymnast and Perfect 10 opens in that sphere and later on it again puts the focus on training and on dance in sequences which show off the skills involved. Nevertheless, Leigh's story is not centred on sport striking as this element is. In fact, it proves to be just one thread in a study of a girl finding the strength to overcome the vulnerability and lack of confidence caused by the loss of her mother and the unpromising situation in which she finds herself. With the arrival on the scene of Joe (Alfie Deegan) her position seems initially to have worsened. Joe is a half-brother of whose existence she had been entirely ignorant but who is now taken into the household having been kicked out by his own mother. Joe, whose friends tend to be macho bikers, does not hit it off with Leigh at all in the first instance. But in time (and Riley's s screenplay is at its very best here) it becomes clear that Joe shares some of Leigh's insecurities and their gradual rapprochement is entirely persuasive. But if this could be a positive in Leigh's life, it also proves to be a threat because Joe leads Leigh into the company of Reece (Billy Mogford), a criminal type for whom he has done errands. It soon becomes apparent that in seeking to assert herself Leigh might well be drawn into Reece's unsavoury world.

 

Riley's film is clearly sympathetic to its characters and their problems but it's not sentimental with it even if one sequence involving a walk on the South Downs and making use of the Sussex landscape does suddenly take on a lyrical tone present nowhere else. For a debut, this certainly counts as a success, but just how effective it is probably depends on how closely individual viewers identify with Leigh. Her behaviour and the decisions that she takes sometimes invite disapproval and, while that makes the character feel true to life, it does for me limit the emotional impact of the film (the coach Gemma so well played by Sharlene Whyte is by far the warmest figure on screen). It is undeniable however that both Box and Deegan are entirely persuasive and viewers who can see in these characters people who, however imperfect, are kindred spirits may well be swept up in their tale: I liked it but in all probability they will love it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Frankie Box, Alfie Deegan, Sharlene Whyte, Billy Mogford, William Ash, Nicola Wright, Leia Desseaux, Lexa Willis-Gray, Emily Gibson, Jenna Goodwin, Mitchell Murphy, Annie Grainger.

 

Dir Eva Riley, Pro Valentina Brazzini, Bertrand Faivre and Jacob Thomas, Screenplay Eva Riley, Ph Steven Cameron Ferguson, Pro Des Sarah Jenneson, Ed Abolfazl Talooni, Music Terence Dunn, Costumes Susie Coulthard.

 

BBC Films/BFI/Creative England/The Bureau/Ngauruhoe Film/iFeatures-606 Distribution.
83 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 7 August 2020 in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema/BFI Player/Modern Films. Cert. 15.