Perfect 10 (4 stars)

Perfect 10

Eva Riley's compassionate debut illuminates the plight of a troubled young gymnast

The importance of having someone in your corner is explored in this sensitive peer pressure drama, which takes a Fish Tank-esque tack as it deals with the trials of a gobby and vulnerable teenage girl, whose life looks up when an older brother appears out of the blue. Writer-director Eva Riley makes her feature debut with a film set in the world of amateur gymnastics, which premiered at the London Film Festival last year.

With USA Gymnastics exposé Athlete A triggering revelations about abusive practices in the British squad, the real-world view of the sport has been so negative of late you might assume that a screen portrayal would be similarly concerning. Instead, it's shown as a possible route out for the lonely, motherless and financially disadvantaged Leigh (talented newcomer Frankie Box), who is living on the outskirts of Brighton and has recently made her club's competition squad. Although her coach Gemma (played by Sharlene Whyte) couldn't be kinder, Leigh's confidence is at rock-bottom, with her fellow gymnasts a group of intimidatingly embellished mean girls.

Leigh's dad Rob (William Ash) is struggling and his inability to parent leaves the lass anxious and exposed, while the arrival of a half-brother she didn't know she had – Alfie Deegan's cheeky chappie Joe – knocks her sideways. However, it's not long before Leigh warms to this amiable character who dabbles in criminality with a gang of moped thieves and is all-too eager to please, having been burned by the rejection of their father. As the pair tentatively bond and embark on adventures, it's charming, and unusual to see a brother-sister dynamic depicted in such detail.

Perfect 10 cares less about gymnastics and more about illustrating what happens when someone's prospects are jeopardised by their circumstances and lack of self-esteem. Leigh might be stuck in the doldrums but Riley's compassion raises her up, and the soft, sun-speckled cinematography from Steven Cameron Ferguson captures her talent and the way she is dazzled by Joe's arrival, going so far as to develop something of a crush on him. More than just a story about the comforting nature of kin, it shows how daring it feels to dream when your horizons are so limited.

Available to watch in cinemas and on demand from Fri 7 Aug.

Perfect 10

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • UK
  • 1h 24min
  • Directed by: Eva Riley
  • Written by: Eva Riley
  • Cast: Frankie Box, Alfie Deegan, Sharlene Whyte

Eva Riley's feature debut is a sensitive coming-of-age drama following a young gymnast whose life one day changes when her half-brother knocks on their door.