Director Dominic Savage is fast gaining recognition. Earlier this year he added the BAFTA (Best New Director) to his list of accolades for Nice Girl, his critically acclaimed debut feature.
In the best traditions of gritty, issue-based drama, When I Was Twelve turns to the struggles of people growing up disaffected, impoverished and disenfranchised, and asks why anyone should be denied the innocence of childhood. It is also a compelling story of resilience, escape and the hope of something better.
We are taken on a journey with 12-year-old Chloe (Holly Scourfield), a pre-teen runaway, who lives in a soulless ghost town in the North of England. Starved of the attention she deserves and neglected by her depressed mother (Lisa Millett), who takes comfort in drinking, Chloe is ill-treated by her bullying brother (Adam Scourfield). She finds a kindred spirit in Kelly (Ashley Thewlis) and the pair hang out in derelict buildings, combating boredom by drinking, smoking fags and talking about sex.
When 15-year-old Lee (Jody Latham) steals a car and heads for the seaside resort of Hastings to get away from his abusive father (Steve Money), Chloe sees this as her chance to escape too. But her dreams of a new life are quickly shattered. Lee abandons her, unable to cope with the responsibility of someone else's life, while struggling to come to terms with his own.
Chloe is found and brought home. She and Kelly try again and return to Hastings. Just when you think things can't get any worse, Chloe gets mixed up with a couple of likely lads, who try to pimp her as a child prostitute, and then Kelly too abandons her.
What makes the film so engaging is that, in spite of everything, we are achingly reminded that Chloe is still a child. She giggles with Kelly, a Britney Spears fan, and skims pebbles on the beach. When she makes an awkward, embarrassed pass at Lee, he reminds her that she is only 12 and we feel for their shared confusion and vulnerability.
The realism owes much to Savage's improvisational filmmaking style. Most of the movie is shot using available light and actor's parts were developed in workshops. The result is raw, naturalistic and engaging.
We don't know what Chloe will find at the end of her rainbow, but are left hoping that if it's not gold, it will be compassion and understanding. It's all the film asks of us.