Portrayed by the exceptional Jessica Barden, the 14-year-old drinks, smokes, and does drugs. She is the ultimate bad example, although given her home life, you can understand why this troubled individual rebels sometimes, which reminded me of the character of Lili (portrayed by Zsófia Psotta) in White God, a child with an adult’s head on her shoulders.
Set on a rundown London council estate, this is a slice-of-life drama that comes across in similar style to classic, groundbreaking dramas from the ’70s, which have a simple premise, but it’s the characters and the actors that make it.
Her Dad buggers off to Tenerife, leaving her at home. He’s already split from her mum, Nicole (Jaime Winstone), who is unconscious from booze most of the day, while letting her disgusting boyfriend Leon (Charlie Creed Miles) get his feet under the table. Ellen lives amongst family and fiends (not really friends) half of which look like inbred scum. The only one, there, who seems to care for her is her grandma (Amelda Brown), but she’s in a bad way and her condition is not improving. Everything is getting on top of her.
Despite her young years, she clearly knows that there are older men who fancy her and, for one she’s fond of – Jason (One of Us‘ Joe Dempsie) – she knows she can wrap him around her little finger, regardless of the criminal implications if any “how’s your father” was to happen. She is human, however, as she shows her delicate side when hre grandma is very ill.
In search of friendship with someone her own age, she chances upon Kayla (Yasmin Monet Prince), both learning from her and also having an undesirable influence on occasion, at one point offering her mushrooms:
- Kayla: “From Asda?”
Ellen: “From my pocket(!)”
Their relationship develops its own intriguing story, but the star, here, is Jessica Barden. She perfects the look of a a girl with a young head on adult shoulders, whilst also getting across that she’s just an innocent child after all, and that she doesn’t know as much as she thinks she does. Ms Barden can convey 1000 words with a single look, in this drama, and while having a number of other roles under her belt, she is clearly a brilliant and self-assured actress, and a talent to watch in the future.
Brilliantly composed in a cinematic 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, Ellen is compelling, chilling and disturbing.
And amazingly, this is a debut feature-length project for both scriptwriter Sarah Quintrell and director Mahalia Belo. With talent like this right from their debuts – More please!
Ellen is broadcast tonight on Channel 4 at 10pm, and will be available on All4 shortly after broadcast. Also, click on the poster for the full-size version.
Director: Mahalia Belo
Producer: Ben Bickerton
Writer: Sarah Quintrell
Music: Jonathan Hill
Ellen: Jessica Barden
Kayla: Yasmin Monet Prince
Jason: Joe Dempsie
Nicole: Jaime Winstone
Leon: Charlie Creed-Miles
Graham: Johann Myers
Nan: Amelda Brown
Jimmy Bird: Xirone Russell
Jack: Christian Patterson
Linda: Anita Reynolds
Barmaid: Laura Bayston
Man at Party: Radoslaw Kaim
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.