“It seemed to me the only solution…”
Based on the Silver Dagger winning novel by Morag Joss, Half Broken Things was a psychological drama shown on ITV in 2007 and deemed worthy of my attention, as ever, due to the presence of such luminaries as Penelope Wilton and Sinéad Matthews in the cast. And in Alan Whiting’s adaptation, these talents are put to good use in in what is far from a conventional crime drama but rather an intriguingly drawn character study that sits in a grey area of morality and toys most effectively with our preconceptions.
Wilton plays Jean, a professional house-sitter whom life has passed by rather and even this one thing of hers is soon to be gone as enforced retirement looms large on the horizon after one final job looking after an idyllic mansion on the edges of a quiet village. All that changes when she gets an unexpected visit though as heavily pregnant Steph (Matthews) and new boyfriend (and petty criminal on the side) Michael (Mays) rock up on the run from her violent ex. Intending to scam Jean, instead a bond is built between the trio when Steph gives birth and the unlikeliest of surrogate families is born as the older lady insists that they stay in the house with her.
Because of the isolation of the house and the couple’s desire to remain below the radar, the situation proves ideal and out of these hermetic conditions, something touching emerges as a real sense of closeness builds up between the three of them. Jean gets the family she’d always dreamed of, Wilton beautifully portrays this late blooming with a sensitive wonder and an almost blinkered certainty that this adopted life is her right; Steph is given the chance to get the kind of help to be a mother that she never dared dream of, Matthews employing the bruised fragility she does so well; and Mays’ Michael is able to draw a veil, temporarily at least, over the shady business that characterised his life before.
But we’re never allowed to forget that they are just hiding from reality and once the outside world starts to make inroads into their perfect idyll, the three of them resort to all manner of shockingly extreme action into order to protect what they have, even though it isn’t theirs. And it is a measure of the quality of the writing and acting that there is no doubt as to where one’s sympathies lie, no matter how criminal the behaviour. Worth tracking down if it pops up on one of ITVs many replay channels.