Director: Deborah Haywood
15 | 1h 22min | Drama | 13 July 2018 (UK)
I’m usually drawn to films that showcase a truly unique and compelling world. I’m also drawn to screenplays that have the guts to go through with a merciless conclusion to a character’s arc (even when its a franchise I care about, looking at you Star Wars). Pin Cushion, from writer/director Deborah Haywood, is a great example of both. It subverts your expectations, starting off as a somewhat twee study of eccentricity before slowly but surely grinding the idea that such the rejection of such eccentricity by a conservative society will be overcome by love and persistence. The resulting strange mix of hippyish kitsch decor and Loachian social realism is quite unlike anything I’ve seen for a whole.
The film centres on super close Mother Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and daughter Iona (Lily Newmark) , a strange mother-daughter duo who dress like the hosts of children’s puppet TV shows from the 80s and refer to each other as Dafty One and Dafty Two. Their house, in the working class suburbs of a northern city, is decked out in Lyn’s preferred taste: best described as super-chintz on crack. China dolls, nodding dog puppets, childlike hand paintings on the wall, it is as if Lyn has built an entire self contained world of cuddliness to protect her and Iona from the outside world. When you consider Lyn’s disability (she has a back condition that causes her to limp) and the absence of a father figure to Iona, it is easy to imagine some trauma and abuse in their past.
We never learn though, because Haywood’s dark but compelling drama is more interested in exploring how Iona and Lyn can’t make their own future instead of delving into their past. Iona is vulnerable to the predators of the hot clique of girls at school, who act more like frenemies than friends, and bigoted neighbour Belinda is determined to play mind games with Lyn by refusing to give her her stepladders back. You keep expecting Lyn and Iona’s naive persistence to break down the barriers society puts up, but Haywood instead explores how its often the outsiders who are broken instead. Superb performances from the leads.