The Unloved -- Film Review

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TORONTO -- It obviously comes from a very personal and painful place, but that doesn't make actress Samantha Morton's directorial debut, "The Unloved," any easier to endure.

A cinema verite-type portrait of an 11-year-old girl doomed to fall through the cracks of Great Britain's problematic social services system, the film takes a relentlessly one-note approach to its subject matter, which is probably deliberate but nonetheless monotonous.

Developed with the support of the UK's Channel 4, "The Unloved" will likely have a tough time getting exposure beyond the small screen.

Morton, whose Oscar-nominated turns in "Sweet and Lowdown" and "In America" were informed by a vulnerability and honesty, employs those same traits behind the camera, chronicling the hard-knock life of the film's young Lucy (Molly Windsor).

Constantly bounced between the British Midlands flat of her abusive father (Robert Carlyle), a non-maternal mother (Susan Lynch), foster care and an overwhelmed children's home, she's caught in a vicious cycle from which there would appear to be no escape.

Having spent her own pre-adult years in the Nottinghamshire social services system, Morton certainly knows the drill, perhaps too well.

Working very much in the realistic style of Ken Loach, with his efforts "Kes" and "Ladybird Ladybird" coming to mind, Morton and screenwriter Tony Grisoni ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") keep hammering home the hard truths about a seriously flawed system.

Although she occasionally breaks the oppressiveness by doing some interesting things with sounds (or the lack of them), it ultimately would have been more effective if the film had pulled back occasionally, adding some of those unexpected dimensions Morton brings to her most memorable roles.

Bottom Line: Samantha Morton's directorial bow proves less captivating than her performances.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Film4, EM Media, Revolution Films
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Susan Lynch, Molly Windsor, Lauren Socha
Director: Samantha Morton
Screenwriter: Tony Grisoni
Producer: Kate Ogborn
Executive producers: Liza Marshall, Andrew Eaton, Michael Winterbottom, Suzanne Alizart
Director of photography: Tom Townend
Production designer: Jane Levick
Music: Colleen
Costume designer: Sarah Blenkinsop
Editor: Colin Monie
Sales: Protagonist Pictures
No rating, 106 minutes