An uncompromising directorial debut by author Helen Walsh, The Violators is a powerful story of teenage girls in broken Britain.
The Liver Birdsby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Surprisingly accomplished and powerfully real, this is the first film as a director for Helen Walsh, an award-winning novelist. Handheld cameras and natural light create a bleak picture of a run-down Birkenhead, Liverpool’s poor relation, with its sink estates and pawn shops. In this no-hope environment, 15-year-old Shelley (a wonderful lead performance by Lauren McQueen), excluded from school, roams in her imitation Ugg boots, petty thieving to survive. She lives with her feckless step-brother Andy (Derek Barr), who fills the house with noisy druggies, and she does her best to mother her younger step-brother Jerome (Callum King Chadwick). The odds seem stacked against her in life, but she’s resourceful.
Shelley becomes the sexual target of the local pawn shop owner and loan shark Mikey (Stephen Lord). Though he manipulates and grooms her, for a pretty girl like Shelley, exploiting her sexuality is a means of survival in that environment, and she’s not simply a victim. She also – serendipitously it seems at first – catches the attention of 17-year-old Rachel (Brogan Ellis), who befriends her in a stalkerish way. Kind neighbour Kieran (Liam Ainsworth), about to leave for the army, is the only person who isn’t using her. The unexpected news that their violent father is coming out of prison on parole throws the terrified three siblings into panic and when Mikey says he’ll protect them, though with strings attached, Shelley takes up his offer. Rachel, meanwhile, is always around. She knows all about Mikey, and wants Shelley to join her in taking an unexpected kind of revenge.
Filmed with a bleak colour palette that’s enlivened by the bright colours of an amusement arcade and a fairground, The Violators looks grimly realistic and authentic and the acting is uniformly naturalistic. The scenario is all too believable in broken Britain, but Walsh puts a fresh spin on it with the spiky self-confidence of Shelley and a twist on dynamics of her relationships with Mikey and Rachel. The plot is more complex than it seems at first, as the film reveals that it’s not simply a dark story of society’s failing underclass as the disparate lives we see turn out to be linked in surprising ways.
The Violators is released on 17th June 2016 in the UK and on demand.