Scott Graham's award-winning Highland drama, starring Chloe Pirrie as a teenager who works at a remote petrol station
On Film4: 4 Aug 11:05PM
Actor-turned director Nic Moran's follow-up to Joe Meek biopic Telstar is based on another true story - that of best-selling author Kevin Lewis's struggle to overcome childhood abuse.
Since 'misery memoirs' are now as grimly familiar as the daytime TV shows that have popularized them in recent years, it's little wonder the phrase has become banal almost to the point of meaninglessness. Featuring some of the most relentlessly grim production design in recent British cinema and a protagonist who suffers cruel violence from most people he encounters in the film, Nic Moran's adaptation of Kevin Lewis' best-selling autobiographical novels is a stark reminder of its true sense. From the moment we meet Kevin, dumped on a roadside following a savage beating, he's bruised and battered, and - whether through extended flashbacks to his brutally abusive childhood, or in his adult life as a bare-knuckle boxer forced to inhabit London's criminal underworld - rarely a scene goes by where he's not used as a punchbag.
The effect of portraying such extreme, sustained violence inevitably verges - at best - on the numbing, but here it's the air of parody that's most problematic. If you sat down to watch The Kid, blissfully unaware it was modeled on fact rather than fiction, the queasily familiar story arc (mistreated, deprived but bright boy finds love and comes good), characters (inspiring young English teacher makes Shakespeare cool) and motifs (Kevin's only solace is classical music, listened to on Walkman given to him by inspiring young English teacher) would probably make you scoff. Nor does it help that the abominably miscast Natascha McElhone, as Kevin's unhinged mother and chief abuser - fully 'uglied' up, in false teeth, NHS glasses, housecoat, with fag drooping from perma-snarl and a bawling baby surgically attached to her person - is played as a one-dimensional pantomime villain with shades of Janet Street Porter.
Rupert Friend's own performance as the fey, softly spoken Kevin is also slightly baffling. Though final reel footage, of a TV piece featuring Lewis on the sofa with - you've guessed it - Fern Britton, reveals his impersonation to be spot-on. Still, as with his mother's characterization, though we're supposedly being told Kevin's story through his own eyes, we're in fact only ever shown it - and very opaquely at that. His motivations and the source of the evidently remarkable inner strength required for him to transcend his tragic upbringing, even after spending nearly two hours in his company, remain a mystery.
In this case, truth isn't stranger than fiction, it's just strangely hackneyed.
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