Hanging upside down with the blood rushing to her head is how teenager Leigh (Frankie Box) starts this realist British drama. In one shot it neatly captures how her world for years has been turned on its head by a mother nowhere to be seen, a father who drinks too much, and the sudden appearance of her half-brother Joe (Alfie Deegan) who she didn’t even know existed. Coupled with almost constant bullying at her gymnastics club, and Leigh has to summon up every ounce of self-belief she can find in order to keep going.

The basics of the story don’t feel especially new, but these kinds of down-to-earth, realist depictions of working class families are rare nevertheless. The main characters all don’t take kindly to being challenged, while both Leigh and Joe at times risk sabotaging the growing relationship that the two share. They are the heart of the film, and are elevated by two strong central performances from Box and Deegan. Box especially has almost a haunted look behind her eyes, as if she can see her life grinding to a halt but feels powerless to prevent it. While their central pairing is key, other elements of the film could have done with more attention – the absence of Leigh’s mother feels like a larger part of her life than the film suggests, and several supporting characters could have done with some more development.

Writer-director Eva Riley does a good job of keeping Leigh and Joe firmly as the film’s focus, her attention rarely going elsewhere as she focuses on their slowly developing bond. Seemingly small events, such as the first time they ride a motorbike together, are framed with such tenderness that they can’t help but feel significant. Moments that are otherwise mundane or drab always have a glimmer of beauty in them, meaning that – like Leigh – you will always be trying to find the brightest point of any situation, even if sometimes you give up trying. Equally moving is her relationship with gymnastics instructor Gemma (Sharlene Whyte), the caring but ultimately no-nonsense role model that seems to be filling the void where Leigh’s mother should be. 

Perfect 10 sometimes feels a bit predictable with what direction it’s going in, and tonally Riley isn’t always settled. Some moments come across as funnier or stranger than perhaps intended. But the film still has a big heart underneath a hardened exterior, much like Leigh herself, and is determined to tell a story befitting of a troubled, lovable underdog. Riley’s film has some crystal-clear themes of self-confidence and the perks of being open with others, but largely avoids cliches with a story that gives you exactly what you need.

Dir: Eva Riley

Scr: Eva Riley

Cast: Frankie Box, Alfie Deegan, Sharlene Whyte

Prd: Valentina Brazzini, Bertrand Faivre, Jacob Thomas

DoP: Steven Cameron Ferguson

Music: Terence Dunn

Country: UK

Year: 2019

Run time: 83 mins

Perfect 10 is released on 7th August on Curzon Home Cinema / BFI Player