Tina Bell (Jessica Hynes) likes to get out her frustrations by taking box fit classes at the gym, and seeing the actual boxers training makes her wonder if she could try that too, for life seems to be throwing increasing amounts of angst at her that she could do with a more robust channel to exorcise her demons and the effects of those around her. Her husband, Mick (Shaun Parkes) has a steady job, and Tina herself works in a care home for the elderly, while their three children attend local schools, but eldest child Emma (Sennia Nanua) is struggling thanks to being bullied by an ex-friend there who has rallied the mood of her classes against her. Can Tina and Mick help?
There is a lot more to the bullying plotline than there appears, but then Jessica Hynes' directorial debut was one to demonstrate that more happens beneath the surface of everyday life and everyday interactions than we commonly like to admit. Tina has guilt in her life that she thought she was over, but now seeing it affect Emma and her parents, Gene (Anita Dobson) and Frank (Christopher Fairbank), just as they affect her, she comes to accept that it is difficult to cope with emotions that tend to linger, and more importantly, the damage that can be inflicted, no matter that this damage had been instigated many years before - these things hang around in the mind and in existence.
That old saw, the child is the father of the man, was expanded to put across that the child is the mother of the woman as well, and though we are getting an hour and a half snapshot of lives that are convincingly portrayed as occurring before the action started and continuing after we have left them to get on with things, we are in receipt of a far bigger picture, when we were really simply dipping into this family and their tensions. With Hynes best known for her comedy, many might have expected her debut at the helm of her own screenplay to be a comedy too, yet aside from two or three scenes deliberately aimed at the funny bone, here she kept the mood serious, even contemplative.
That script was obviously the result of a lot of thinking, and you could only guess at whereabouts in the recesses of Hynes' mind it had been started from, but it paid off in an experience that may not have been the tightest of storylines, but has genuine resonance in its drama. You may or may not be aware that bullying does not stop after leaving school necessarily, and the effects of a childhood cowed by intimidation and even violence can be difficult to shake off, but that can be twice as difficult if the victim is reminded every day of how scared they were way back when, how depressed, even how self-destructive, the bullying made them. And when the bullies themselves are adults with responsibilities of their own, they may have trouble weighing up their supposed maturity with the cruelties of their past.
The twist here is that Emma is being victimised by the daughter (Liv Hill) of Amanda (Rhona Mitra), who Tina knows from her schooldays. Not because the now-aggressive Amanda was making her life a misery, but the opposite: Tina was the bully, and we learn her victim, now grown, has a broken relationship and alcoholism to contend with thanks to the damage Tina left her with, mental scars that ensure she will never be able to accept herself. Little wonder Amanda is angry, and actually beats up her aggressor at one point. Yet we see this in Gene as well, for as Frank describes it, she had a terrible childhood that has made her the ultimate passive aggressive, and at times just violent (towards her husband). The concept that we spend our adulthood getting over our childhoods was largely applicable if you had not had such a great time, but here we saw you may have had a great time inducing suffering, and you had a choice: either continue to do so now you're grown, or change your ways and behave like a rational, responsible human being. We conclude that Tina, at least, will be able to do this, and maybe even lead by example and admitted regret.
[Just the trailer to accompany the film on Sparky Pictures' DVD.]