In a strict 1930s boarding school, the diving team are a tightly knit clique led by Di Radfield (Temple) and mentored by the enigmatic Miss G (Green). But the groups dynamics are challenged by the arrival of new Spanish student Fiamma (Valverde).
Appropriately enough for a feature debut, this is a film about first times: first love, first heartbreak, first incoherent rage at the way the world seems to have turned against you. But it’s also a film that is understated to the point of silence, a straight-laced melodrama that takes a detached and somewhat passionless view of its characters, who are all fervour in their actions.
Set in a 1930s boarding school where the girls receive tuck boxes from stiff-upper-lipped parents who have, to all intents and purposes, abandoned them to institutionalisation, the atmosphere is at once stultifyingly dull and rife with hidden intrigue: midnight feasts, cliquey plotting and all the high-running blood of adolescent schoolgirls. Di Radfield (Juno Temple) is the flouncing diva of the diving team, a favourite of queen bee teacher Miss G (Eva Green) and ruler of her own little world, but when exotic new girl Fiamma (María Valverde) arrives, Di is displaced in her teacher’s affections, and her own high opinion of herself is rocked.
Eva Green, always more comfortable as the weirdo than the sex kitten, is perfectly cast as the glamorous schoolteacher who inspires the girls. It’s only gradually that the cracks start to show: a little desperation around the eyes, a sense that she needs their adoration, the realisation that her fashionable clothes are homemade and that her travel stories have something of the Walter Mitty about them. Miss G’s isolation from the other teachers is revealed as less her choice than theirs; her confidence a façade only fit to fool adolescents. As she unravels, so the other imperfections in the clique’s lives become unbearable, and inevitably there are tragic consequences.
The film’s at its best when it leaves things unexplained — Miss G’s near-phobia of the outside world, her murky past, Fiamma’s romantic history — and weakest when the plot’s speed passes a meander and rushes towards a too-familiar conclusion. As a Lord Of The Flies influence colours proceedings and the characters come unstuck, you may find yourself wishing for the comforting whitewash of Mallory Towers rather than this bleak twist on school days.
An auspicious debut for Scott, but one whose ingredients are too familiar to really fizz. Green is great, though, in a dark-tinged role that plays to her strengths.