Deborah Haywood’s directorial debut, Pin Cushion, is based, she says, on her own experiences of being bullied at school. I can only fervently pray that she has exaggerated what went on, because this is a relentlessly bleak story from start to finish – which is not to say that it isn’t a good film. On the contrary, it’s powerful and deeply affecting. But as I watch, I find myself praying for a token beam of light to break through the overpowering gloom and, frankly, it never appears.
Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) is a single mum with a multitude of problems. Afflicted by a deformed spine and a pronounced limp, she takes her teenage daughter, Iona (Lily Newmark), to a unnamed town, somewhere in darkest Derbyshire. Lyn and Iona are in search of a new start. Things clearly haven’t gone too well for them in their previous home. They are mutually dependent, referring to each other as ‘Dafty 1’ and ‘Dafty 2’ and even sharing a bed. But Iona is reaching the age where she longs for new friends and new experiences.
Unfortunately, once installed in the local school, she falls under the influence of alpha-female, Keely (Sacha Cordy-Nice), who immediately sets about making the new arrival’s life hell on earth. Lyn doesn’t fare any better, treated with open disdain by her neighbours and even told not to return to a ‘friendship group’ she visits. (Actually, this is the point in the film where things becomes faintly unbelievable – could anyone act as horribly as the people in this film? I’d like to believe they wouldn’t.)
Lily’s aspirational fantasies, delivered in magical realism style, may have been the director’s attempt to soften the horror of the situation, but they don’t help overmuch. Indeed, there’s an overall fairytale quality to this film, but it’s definitely of the Grimm variety – and some viewers may spot more than a passing resemblance to Brian de Palma’s Carrie. There are superb performances from the two leads. Of course, we come to this expecting Scanlon to be good, but this is Newmark’s first film, and she certainly makes the most of it.
Tonight’s screening at the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, is followed by a Q & A with Joanna Scanlan, who clearly feels passionate about the themes raised here and answers the audience’s questions frankly and intelligently.
So can I honestly say I enjoy Pin Cushion? No, not really. It impresses me, and makes me think that Haywood is a name to watch out for in the future. But I emerge from the screening feeling decidedly shell-shocked – and though, of course, that may have been the director’s intention, in the end it doesn’t feel like enough.