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5 December 2009

Island Fling

I've been wanting to see the film Cracks ever since it was shown at the London Film Festival at the same time as the disappointment that was the Secret Film. Afterwards, I wished I'd gone to see Cracks instead but I hadn't heard anything about it (and obviously hadn't read its entry in the LoFiFest programme because a film set in a girls' boarding school in the 1930s with Eva Green as the unconventional teacher sounds right up my street).

The film went on general release this weekend and although I was somewhat discouraged by the one-star rating from Time Out (I try not to read any reviews before I see a film in case it puts me off or biases me; if Mark Kermode reviewed it this week, I'm sure he hated it), I convinced my South-of-the-River friend to join me in Haymarket, lest my cold be worsened by the Balham air.

The girls' boarding school in question is set on a remote island which is, by turns, splendid and sinister. Eva Green plays Miss G, a glamorous teacher and a former pupil of the school, who has a special group of favourite pupils who form the diving team (a team that has never competed in any competitions), all of whom display their special status by wearing red sashes. Di Radfield is team captain, Miss G's favourite and all-around queen bee. Her dives are the best and the other girls in the team suck up to her and give in to her bitchy demands. She also has a crush on Miss G and will do anything to please her teacher--woe betide anyone who tries to steal Miss G's attention from her.

Enter Fiamma, a Spanish princess, who has been exiled by her father because she fell in love with a commoner. Error. Fiamma doesn't care that she doesn't fit in and that the girls bully her mercilessly because knows she will only be at the school for a term--but then, most of the other girls thought that too and they are still there, years later. She is also beautiful and generous and does the most stunning dives the team or Miss G have ever seen. Miss G is entranced and Di furious with jealousy. Fiamma has destroyed the balance and hierarchy that existed among the girls and shifted the tentative balance of power.

As the film develops, girls will, it seems, be girls, which on this occasion means that they will be bitchy and selfish and cruel, but as they get to know Fiamma, Miss G herself begins to unravel and Di slowly begins to realise that her beloved teacher may not be the perfect, worldly woman she once thought.

By highlighting the island setting, director Jordan Scott (Ridley Scott Jr.) adds a slightly creepy sense of isolation as well as an almost fairy-tale-like, other-worldly mood and much is made of the contrasts between the the dark, dramatic woods in winter and the glorious summer mornings when the diving team leap from the diving board into the shimmering lake (sea?), their twisting, somersaulting bodies captured in slow-motion. The relationships between the girls and between the girls and their teacher are intriguing and Green does do a good job of playing the beautiful, glamorous teacher with hints of a troubled past and a troubled mind. Juno Temple (Di Radfield) plays an older version of her character in Atonement and a younger version of her character from Glorious 39 so it's no surprise that she has got the attention-seeking bossy-boots character down to a T. Yet, this little island fling didn't quite come together enough for me; it wasn't Kingdom of Heaven, but it certainly wasn't Blade Runner either.

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