A gothic melodrama with a girls’ school setting, this is in a sparse tradition that includes The Beguiled, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The House That Screamed; though it has something in common with boys’ school contes crueles like Child’s Play, Unman, Wittering and Zigo and Absolution. Screenwriters Ben Court and Caroline Ip, who adapted Sheila Kohler’s South African novel to a British setting, worked on The Hole, a recent mixed-sex boarding school horror – and this plays similar games with peer groups, outsiders, charismatic manipulators and a hothouse atmosphere removed from the real world.
In 1934, princessy Spanish girl Fiamma (Maria Valverde) arrives on an island off the coast of England (the locations are Irish) and is compelled to join the elite diving team (red sashes) coached by Miss G (Eva Green), who is younger than the other dried stick mistresses and given to sharing fags and confidences with her favourite girls – who believe her tales of adventure and travel, even as her exoticism dims with the appearance of the fragile (she coughs) yet dramatic Fiamma. Di Redfield (Juno Temple), hitherto the pace-setter and pet, is piqued to be edged out by the newcomer, though her own clique is loyal to her, but Fiamma is less taken with Miss G than the woman is with her – and it gradually emerges that the teacher has gone from unwanted pupil to resident teacher without experiencing the real world (and has a minor panic attack even when going to the local shops) and has slightly too-obvious romantic yearnings for Fiamma. With this set-up, it’s obvious that the climax will involve someone being killed and illusions being shattered – and there’s a detour into Lord of the Flies territory for the final run through the woods. Directed by Jordan Scott, this is a solidly okay film, but doesn’t quite soar: I was more interested in the set-up at the school in general, which turns out to be a repository for unwanted daughters who must all have backstories, than the guessable goings-on with the diving team.
Its best moments come when there are no explanations – we never find out why the diving team doesn’t compete with other schools, or what Miss G’s circumstances were as a pupil, or even really why all these girls have rich parents who never want to see them again, but these elements resonate even as the Heavenly Creatures-ish lesbo love triangle and gymslip lynch-mob aspects seem a little rote. It has good performances – Temple, who usually plays spacier girls, is interesting as the displaced heroine who might have a chance to break out of the place, and Green short-circuits her natural glamour by becoming more haggard and witchy and pathetic as the film progresses. With Imogen Poots as Di’s loyal sidekick.