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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Justine ****

Starring: Tallulah Haddon, Sophie Reid, Sian Reese-Williams, Xavien Russell

Director: Jamie Patterson

Country: UK

In this new film from Tucked director Jamie Patterson, we meet Justine (Haddon), a young alcoholic on probation with a very troubled past. Living in Brighton, she meets Rachel (Reid), a middle-class student who is in the process of trying to relocate to Barcelona to teach English abroad. Rachel is enamoured of Justine, wooed by her free-spirited egotism, but it isn’t long before she begins to realise that this attitude is symptomatic of her self-destructive behaviour. She shoplifts, carries vodka in a water bottle and reacts violently to any provocation she encounters. And though Justine receives therapy as part of her probation, her downward cycle of self-sabotage is a freight train that even Rachel can’t stop.

This is an accomplished study of a dark and damaged young woman. Tallulah Haddon is a revelation, imbibing this troubled character with haughty reserve and steel-faced withdrawal. This is a doomed romance from the outset and it’s refreshing to see the masculinised Justine as the pursued, not the pursuer. For though Rachel wants to “fix” Justine, the cause of her addiction is not superficial.

Brighton appears suitably bleak here, with a grey-drenched palate and a deliberate avoidance of the seaside resort’s attractions. Justine sees the hipster boutiques as opportunities to steal, whereas Rachel is there to live the life of a bohemian in its cute independent cafes. Their difference in class colours their very perception of the town in which they live. But no matter what Justine says about wanting a future in Barcelona, there is a Chekhovian hangover soaked into the narrative, because we know from the outset that she can never leave. She is trapped in a cycle of ruin that she isn’t strong enough to break.

This isn’t your happily-ever-after romance. This is a bleak rumination on addiction and the darkest recesses of habitual self-destruction. With strong performances, measured direction and a strong hand that has planed it back to nuance, this is a sombre piece that never strays toward what could easily have been naval-gazing. This is a strong and lifelike depiction of the residual inequality in British life that creates a likeable – if deeply flawed – protagonist.

UK Release: Out now on demand, released by Curzon.


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