Joanna Scanlan and Lily Newmark in 'Pin Cushion'
Joanna Scanlan and Lily Newmark in 'Pin Cushion'

Deborah Haywood’s mesmerising first feature is a British fairytale impaled, or acupunctured, by reality. It’s a cockamamie Carrie, set in a fey-looking Midlands home decorated and furnished as if by Beatrix Potter. Floral wallpaper; china animals; knitted knick-knacks. Mum Lyn (Joanna Scanlan), a big-girthed homebody with a hunchback, and daughter Iona (Lily Newmark), a redhead with scared-bird eyes, coexist with a domestic cosiness heading for pubertal course correction.

They share the same bed. They share the same fairytale mindset, living inside this giant tea cosy. The outside world — that’s what will get them. “The bells! The bells!” chant cruel street folk when Mrs Quasimodo (to them) passes by. And Iona has school bullies, menstruation and the reputation of a Rapunzel locked nightly in mum’s tower.

The film is giggly, but your laughs are nervous. It’s grand guignol, but on a fine-spun scale. And it has a wonderful touch in titrating inner worlds into outer, and vice versa. Scenes break short to continue as vocalised thoughts in Iona’s head; or thoughts and daydreams flow into reality. The narrative stepping stones are wayward or invisible, or sometimes they’re rocks sticking straight from the water. Lyn’s quarrel with a neighbour over a borrowed stepladder leads to a moment of violent, cathartic climax. Almost nothing in Pin Cushion is easily anticipated. It’s a strong, quirky debut. Compassion bleeds through its shocks and ironies. It’s a true original.

★★★★☆

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