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Half Broken Things

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3 Reviews

Penelope Wilton stars as a lonely house-sitter whose life is completely transformed when she meets two strangers. Half Broken Things is adapted for ITV from the award-winning Morag Joss thriller by Alan Whiting, creator and writer of the hit series Kingdom.

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    3 Reviews
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      03.02.2013 00:38
      Very helpful



      Overall, a very good film

      RELEASED: 2007, Uncertified

      RUNNING TIME: Approx. 95 mins

      DIRECTOR: Tim Fywell

      PRODUCER: Ray Marshall

      SCREENPLAY: Alan Whiting

      MUSIC: Colin Towns

      MAIN CAST:-

      Penelope Wilton as Jean
      Daniel Mays as Michael
      Sinead Matthews as Steph



      Adapted from Morag Joss's novel, Half Broken Things is a film made for TV, first screened in the UK in 2007. It begins with Jean, who is a house-sitter, being sent on an assignment to a large house in the country by her obnoxious boss, who also informs her that being as she (Jean) will be 60 on her next birthday, her contract will then end.

      Jean sets off to the huge, gated country house, and it almost immediately becomes apparent that her behaviour isn't quite normal, as she seems to want to take over the place and believe that it is her own.

      Meanwhile, petty crook Michael rescues a heavily pregnant Steph from her violent boyfriend, and the pair go on the run, by chance turning up at the house which Jean is looking after. Jean invites them in, feeds them, looks after them, and even delivers Steph's baby when she goes into labour.

      Steph and Michael continue living with Jean at her insistence, and a very strange situation arises where they form a make-believe family with one another.

      However, problems arise when the rather unbalanced Jean has her moments of lucidity when she realises the situation can't continue forever, and when Steph accepts a babysitting job for a young divorcee in the nearby village.


      I went into Half Broken Things blind, having no idea what it would be about, but was intrigued due to Penelope Wilton being one of the main cast members, and I usually am quite fond of British films which are especially made for TV.

      Straight away, I felt comfortable with the opening of the film, although I wanted to strangle Jean's very arrogant and up herself boss, but at the same time I could see something odd in Jean's general demeanour that told me she was perhaps a little unhinged, in a quiet sort of way. When the scene switched to pregnant Steph suffering vile abuse from her blockhead boyfriend, I felt so relieved when wide-boy Michael, without quite realising at first what he was doing, came to her rescue.

      Half Broken Things is mostly set in the huge mansion house that Jean is looking after, and its surroundings together with the sleepy, quiet calm of the nearby village, gave me a sense of a Britain which perhaps still exists, but has possibly slipped outside of the awareness of the average 'townie'.

      Although Jean seems a bit odd right from the start, it isn't until the film gets really underway that the viewer can see the depth of her mind-slip, which causes her to create a fantasy situation that for some of the time, she actually comes to believe herself.

      The acting by all concerned is superb, especially that of Penelope Wilton who put a lot into her part, but I did find that the accent she was putting on did slip on occasions. It was also difficult for me to disassociate her from her role (back in the 1980s) as Anne Bryce in the sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles, even though she has obviously aged a lot since then. That did get in the way - a little - of me fully appreciating the brilliance of her acting in Half Broken Things, such being the problem of typecasting.

      Daniel Mays and Sinead Matthews also play their parts excellently, with Mays improving as the situation in the film began to spiral out of control, and Matthews is perfect as Sophie, the initially desperate and frightened pregnant young woman who calms down, beginning to smile and enjoy life once installed in a fantasy family situation with Michael and Jean.

      All three characters have led rather sad and painful lives, each one reaching out to the others for love and support, although Michael and Sophie have a tighter and more realistic grip on the bizarreness of the rapidly mutating situation with Jean.

      I can't say that I had any awareness of a musical score, it probably slipping way into the background for me, as I was concentrating heavily on the characters, the storyline and the path the film was travelling down. There were one or two minor areas where I felt the script could have been a bit sharper, but this was compensated for by the excellent acting.

      One thing I especially liked about Half Broken Things was its unpredictability, in that there is no way - at least there wasn't for me - of anticipating how the strange situation will pan out, or how the film will end. There are a few surprises along the way, and although I would call them consequences rather than twists, they are certainly unusual and kept me riveted to the screen from start to finish.

      Overall, Half Broken Things is an unusual story which travels down some unexpected paths, I suppose at its core being about how far people will go in attempting to fulfill their unrequited needs. It is a very British film, presented in a way which I on one hand found vaguely heartwarming, yet on the other, I did find the character of Jean a little disturbing, which intrigued me.

      If you like a good, largely quiet and tastefully presented drama which focuses heavily on character development and the way the individuals within the storyline interact, this could be something you'd really enjoy. For me, there wasn't a single boring moment, despite a couple of minor flaws such as Penelope Wilton's accent slipping a little occasionally, and perhaps the dialogue could have been sharpened up just a tad....but, they are negligible flaws which didn't in the slightest mar my appreciation and enjoyment of what is a very good film with an unusual storyline.

      To close, I will say that my DVD sleeve information shows no age rating certificate for Half Broken Things, but if the choice were down to me, I'd probably classify it as PG.

      Would I watch it again? Yes!


      At the time of writing, Half Broken Things can be purchased on Amazon as follows:-

      New: no new copies currently available
      Used: from £19.99 to £29.99

      Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.

      Thanks for reading!

      ~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~


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      • More +
        02.11.2007 18:24
        Very helpful



        A disturbing and involving drama

        I enjoy watching one-off dramas on TV and when I saw the trailers for Half Broken Things, they intrigued me and made me want to watch. The star was Penelope Wilton, an actress who never fails to deliver a great performance and recently played a very convincing Prime Minister in Doctor Who! So she was the main reason I fancied watching this, along with the content of the trailers which made it sound like my sort of drama.

        It is based on the book of the same name by Morag Joss and was shown on ITV1 last Sunday evening for two hours. Apart from Penelope Wilton, the cast included only one actor I was familiar with. Lara Cazalet played Sally and I had previously seen her as Zandra in Bad Girls.

        The main parts were taken by two actors I hadn’t seen before and I felt this really helped the authenticity, as I just accepted them in their roles straight away. Daniel Mays played Michael, with Sinead Matthews as Steph. Both are extremely talented actors if their performances in this are anything to go by.

        Michael is first seen conning his way into the trust of a vicar, then running off with some valuable statues. We see him as a petty criminal, a young man living solely from the profits of his illegal activities.

        Next we meet Steph – heavily pregnant and in an abusive relationship. We feel sorry for her immediately, as her boyfriend is bullying and hateful and she just comes across as sweet, but unable to stand up for herself through fear.

        At a petrol station, Steph’s boyfriend goes in to pay, leaving Steph on her own in the car. Seeing her chance to escape, she asks a man in a car nearby for help. This is Michael and despite not knowing Steph at all, he takes pity on her and drives off with her in his car.

        Their relationship forms a large part of the story and why the drama works so well. We also see a new side of Michael. He is much more complex than initially suggested. Yes, he is a thief, but he has a warm heart and soon shows his soft side, as he begins to look after Steph and show her a kindness she is unused to.

        Meanwhile, Jean (Penelope Wilton) is house-sitting. She has done this job for a long time, but this placement at the impressive Walden Manor will be her final one. She will soon be sixty and the agency is not interested in employing a woman of her age. She has no family and without the house-sitting, she faces an uncertain future on her own.

        Each of the three main characters is struggling with life and has not had an easy time. They are indeed ‘Half Broken Things’ and a counsellor would have a great time talking to them, discovering their backgrounds and why they have turned out the way they have. A few things come out to explain this – for example, Michael feels rejected as he was adopted – but a lot is left for the viewers to guess for themselves.

        I don’t want to divulge too much of the plot, as one of its strengths is the amount of twists and turns involved. But basically, Michael and Steph end up at Walden Manor, where Jean sees two lost souls needing help and offers to let them live with her there. They become a kind of family unit, each one finding a happiness and security they have previously lacked.

        But of course, this idyll cannot last. Jean is only house-sitting and knows the owners will eventually come back. However, they love the life they have together and are desperate to keep things that way. This leads to a series of events which become more and more chilling. While this is not in the horror genre, Half Broken Things is far removed from a light, happy drama and if you watch it, you should be prepared for a thrilling and emotional journey.

        I really loved Half Broken Things and the next day, I had a look on Amazon to see if it was available on DVD. So far, it doesn’t seem to be, but I really hope it will be released as I would love to watch it again. My husband found it rather disturbing and can’t understand why I would want to sit through it all again, but I found it really touching and I have thought of it often since Sunday.

        I found the characters to be both complex but simple. You could easily relate to them, even if you hadn’t experienced the things they had. Even though they do things you can’t condone, you still feel sympathy for them and can understand why they make the decisions they do. The tension is apparent quite early on and it makes you guess what is going to happen – although we were often wrong. I did guess the ending, but it was still really well done and extremely effective.

        I can’t really criticise Half Broken Things much. The cast were superb, the setting of Walden Manor was beautiful and the plot was involving and intriguing. It was a good thing it was shown on ITV1 as I would have hated having to miss any of it for toilet breaks! It was probably reasonably cheap to make too, as it had a fairly small cast and was mainly filmed in only a few main locations.

        I really hope it gets shown again on TV or is released on DVD, as it deserves a wide audience. In the meantime, I hope to buy the novel to relive the story and hopefully find out even more about Jean, Michael and Steph. It’s the kind of story I wish I had written.


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        • More +
          02.11.2007 08:26
          Very helpful



          Based on a novel by Morag Joss

          Based on an award-winning novel by Morag Joss, Half Broken Things received its TV premier on the evening of Sunday 28th October 2007. I haven't read the novel and knew nothing about the story but I had seen the trailers for this TV program and was intrigued enough to sit down and watch it.

          The story features three main characters, each of which we quickly discover are very complex. Jean, played by Penelope Wilton is a woman about to turn 60 and facing the prospect of retirement. She works for an agency as a house-sitter, looking after property whilst the clients are away and for her final task she is sent to live at a grand country manor house called Walden Manor.

          Left to her own devises in this beautiful country house she decides to make the most of her final assignment and starts to live at Walden Manor as though she owned the place. Jean narrates a large part of the story, especially near to the beginning whilst she is alone at the house and through the diary like outtakes that she narrates it soon becomes apparent that she is a very lonely woman, with more than a few regrets in her life.

          A chance meeting with a young couple that arrive at the house introduces the other two main characters into the story. Michael, played by Danny Mays, is a petty thief and his girlfriend, Steph, played by Sinead Matthews is heavily pregnant. Jean agrees to put Michael and Steph up for the night but she quickly discovers that all three of them have unhappy pasts, from which they are trying to escape. In Michael, a good looking, happy go lucky lad she sees the son that she never had but always longed for and in Steph she sees many things that remind her of herself. Realising that they have nowhere to go and that Steph is on the run from an abusive ex boyfriend, Jean tells the couple the following morning that they can stay with her for as long as they want.

          Before long the three of them are living together like a family with Jean cooking in the kitchen and cleaning the house, Michael tending the gardens and doing all of the manual jobs around the house and Steph looking after the baby, which arrived shortly after they did. On the face of things everything seem to be idyllic but this is a life that is built upon lie after lie to the point where the lies become bigger and bigger and they begin to merge with the truth, before long the lines between right and wrong are drawn dangerously closer together.

          Jean is a dreamer, a fantasist but she has finally found the family that she has always wanted and her new companions have found a kind of love and happiness that neither of them has experienced before. Settled into a seemingly carefree life it is not long before the lies start to catch up with them, threatening to spoil their idyllic lifestyle.

          It has to be said that this is quite a sad story and that in places it is deeply disturbing too. In short it is a story about the need to belong somewhere, it is about friendship and it is about hope but above all it is about the desperate measures that these three people are prepared to undertake to hold onto the happiness that they have finally found.

          At two hours long this is quite a long drama but I found that there was always something going on to want me to keep watching. This is a clever story that twists and turns and I constantly found myself trying to think ahead although I certainly did not see the end coming. The acting is superb throughout and the characters are believable up to the point where their actions, no matter how strange they may seem at times can be justified.

          If I have to be critical of this drama it would be to say that I had seen Sinead Matthews in another TV drama earlier this year called Trial and Retribution XIII: Curriculum Vitae and there did seem to be some similarities between the character that she played in that and the one that she plays here.

          Overall however I must say that I did enjoy this drama and I am glad that I watched it. If you are a fan of crime, dark psychological thrillers and dramas then I would suggest that you would probably enjoy this too.


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