Based on Sheila Kohler's novel, the story takes place on a remote British island in the '30s and finds a school clique, led by Di (a bossy Juno Temple), shaken by the arrival of new girl Fiamma (Valverde). A Spanish aristocrat, Fiamma struggles to integrate into the tightly-bound group. It's only when gym teacher and diving coach Miss G (Green), who's worshipped by the girls, takes a shine to the new student that she begins to feel welcome. Fiamma's presence shifts the group dynamic, though, as Miss G's infatuation with her becomes unsettling and the titular cracks in her vibrant, worldly personality begin to surface.
Inspirational teacher movies are ten a penny, but this is hardly Dangerous Minds. It shares more in common with Maggie Smith's The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie as the teacher exists vicariously through her pupils and begins to slump into personal turmoil. Miss G's exaggerated globe-trotting stories and glamorous lifestyle impresses the girls, so it's no surprise that she forms an unhealthy attachment to Fiamma, who's had experience of the world outside the school walls. She feeds off the energy from her pupils, all of whom are desperate to dazzle her, yet her willingness to spur them on to better things is hindered by a fragile state of mind.
A slow-burning melodrama that only really kicks up a notch in the final 15 minutes, Cracks is held together by excellent performances from the three main actresses and an uneasy sense that something terrible is about to happen. Green, whose darting eyes and lingering glances hint at a damaged soul, is particularly strong as Miss G. Here, she gives the kind of mentally ill nut job performance that Helen Bonham Carter excels at. Scott makes astute directorial choices, too. She infuses the film with a sensual charge from the outset (Di tells a priest she's been having "a lot of lustful thoughts") yet makes it creepy and uncomfortable when it needs to be. Visually her only misfires are recycling a lake motif and a time-lapse shot of flowers in bloom - perhaps too obvious metaphors for freedom and sexual awakening.
Nevertheless, Cracks is an impressive debut from the latest Scott to step behind the camera. The eye-catching photography, attention to detail and strong acting amount to a sharply-observed character study. It's a fine calling card and marks out Jordan Scott as a British filmmaker to watch.
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