30 November 2015 | bob_meg
An introspective, claustrophobic tale of teen malaise, late '60s Britain style
Carol Morley's second feature achieves something rather spectacular, given that it's one of those indolent period pieces featuring two drastically different girlhood friends in Britain, circa 1969, both attending a strict repressive girl's school.
It's notable in that, while containing no one action that sets the screen ablaze, it manages to keep you mesmerized for virtually its entire run-time. The themes of the story and the shooting style bear favorable, heavy influence from both Peter Weir's gorgeous Aussie fever-dream "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and Lindsey Anderson's prep-school-in-revolt landmark "If....".
It also helps to have two young actresses of the astonishing caliber of Maisie Williams and Florence Pugh to play the lead roles. Williams, as Lydia, carries the emotional load of the piece wonderfully, as the smart-tongued sardonic underachiever with a nightmare home-life and a curiously-stunted sexuality (her older brother only half-teasingly refers to her as "Crazy Face"). Of course, her best friend Abbie (Pugh) is a beautiful blonde bombshell who succeeds at everything she tries, yet still carries an enormous amount of self-destructive baggage.
When Abbie gets knocked up ("I don't understand it.... we did the Catholic thing... he PULLED OUT!"), her Sexcapades get even more daring until finally she begins collapsing at school. Shortly after, Lydia begins to experience the same symptoms and it soon becomes a contagion that has the student body literally swooning in the halls, with balletic abandon.
Sounds rather stupid, doesn't it? Well, it isn't, thanks to the gravitas Morley imbues both her characters with as well as the mystery beneath which cuts with razor-like precision at the issues of repression, conformism, and parental abandonment. Add to that a career-making turn by Maxine Peake as Lydia's agoraphobic, terminally-depressed mother and you have a film that enraptures more by what it doesn't tell you, than what it does.