A care home is no haven for a young girl in Samantha Morton’s directorial debut, says Anabel Unity Sale
The Unloved, the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated actress and former care leaver Samantha Morton, opens with gentle birdsong and a black screen. A young girl’s voice recites the prayer “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” as it cuts to a shot of her lying motionless at the bottom of the stairs.
Lucy, the 11-year-old speaking, has a lot to be fearful of. Her father, played by a desperate-looking Robert Carlyle, is angry because she is empty-handed and two hours late back from the shops to buy his cigarettes with his last £5 (“that’s all we had” he sobs). He takes off his leather belt and viciously beats her – not for the first time.
Based on original material by Morton and written by Tony Grisoni, The Unloved is an intense, dark glimpse into what life in care feels like for a young girl. Morton was in care several times herself as a child in Nottingham, where the film is set. It expertly portrays the loneliness and isolation Lucy experiences as she moves into Crop Row, a children’s home, because no foster carers have a placement for her.
There she shares a room with 16-year-old Lauren and they build a friendship, mainly played out in a shopping centre the pair run away to. Actresses Molly Windsor (Lucy) and Lauren Socha (Lauren) both wear the same blank facial expression to mask the pain they experience. Life in the children’s home is harsh and Morton does not flinch from showing sexual abuse, violence and solvent misuse.
Morton admits she was inspired by films like The American Friend and The Man Without A Past and this shows in her painstaking direction. There are many close ups of Lucy – who rarely speaks but asks whenever she has the chance, “why can’t I live with my mummy?” – and the adults inhabit the background. The social workers and children’s home staff dealing with Lucy range from the caring to the distant.
The Unloved makes for uncomfortable watching. All in social work should watch it.
The Unloved is shown on Channel 4 on Sunday 17 May at 9pm as part of its Britain’s Forgotten Children season.
This article is published in the 14 May issue of Community Care under the heading Cold-hearted care