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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

The Unloved

IntroductionThe Unloved

The Unloved, was directed by actress Samantha Morton and released in    2009. It was produced for Channel 4 television in the UK, where it was first screened as part of the Britain’s Forgotten Children series. The film is loosely based on the experiences that Morton herself had growing up in various children’s homes. She collaborated with writer Tony Grisoni to produce a screenplay that conveys a deep understanding of the real issues encountered by young people dependent on the state for their care needs. Her original motivation to tell her story came from a Television Workshop, which she attended at the age of sixteen when still in residential care. Within that setting she devised a play with the workshop group that would eventually form the basis for the film. The film provides a child centered view of the main protagonist, eleven year-old Lucy’s experiences in care when her estranged parents are unable to care for her adequately.

The Unloved was filmed in Morton’s hometown of Nottingham and the two principle young actresses were cast from auditions held in local schools in that area. Molly Windsor, who plays Lucy, and Lauren Socha, who plays Lauren, both deliver hugely accomplished and moving performances. In an interview, Morton acknowledged how lucky she felt in completing the project “because I have been able to make the film I desperately wanted to make”. She has also stated that she hoped to give audiences a greater understanding of the vulnerability and lack of control that children in care can suffer. The film certainly pulls no punches in its dark and harrowing portrait of Lucy’s experiences.  Morton decided to set it in the present day rather than in 1989, when she was in care, to avoid it being cast as an historical piece. It won a BAFTA TV award in 2010.

The Film

The first shot of the film shows Lucy, dressed in her primary school uniform, lying at the bottom of the stairs in her home and it is followed by scenes that explain how she got there. This involves a conversation with her father, played by Robert Carlyle, who becomes increasingly angry and frustrated before giving Lucy a painful beating with his belt. The violent action remains effectively hidden from view as we only hear the sounds of the cruelty.

Lucy is next seen at school where she appears withdrawn and isolated in the classroom. However, she is able to tell her teachers that she needs to speak with her social worker. After taking her to hospital for a physical examination, Lucy’s social worker tells her that she cannot return home to her father and takes her straight to a children’s home where she must live until a foster family can be found. On arrival at the residential home, Lucy is introduced to her roommate, Lauren, who is 16 and very reluctant to have Lucy share with her. However, she soon suggests that Lucy join her on a trip into town, where Lauren proceeds to shoplift some cosmetics. They are caught by security staff, who interview the pair before calling the police. The girls then briefly spend time in a holding cell. It becomes clear that Lauren is a regular offender well known to the police and the girls are soon taken back to the children’s home.

Ever observant of her surroundings in a quiet, self-contained manner, Lucy begins to realise that there is a special connection between Lauren and one of the older male care workers, called Ben. This becomes clearer to Lucy when Ben visits Lauren in bed one night. Upset by this, Lucy runs away and spends a night out in the city, moving through various locations. She returns to the home the next morning and finds the caring concern of female care worker Vicky a rare comfort. Vicky takes Lucy out to buy some casual clothes and shoes. Lucy says more to Vicky during this outing than to anyone else at any other time in the film, suggesting that this relationship is perhaps her most trusted. In contrast, a visit by Lucy’s social worker soon after seems so alienating for Lucy as the conversation revolves around paperwork that must be filled out. The visit doesn’t appear to allow any form of fruitful communication about Lucy’s feelings or experiences.

Some time later, after a night out at the fair, where she witnesses Lauren engaged in prostitution, Lucy makes her way alone to the pub where she knows her father will be drinking. In a painful scene they greet each other and both say that they have missed the other. Spending the night back at home with her unshaven father, Lucy sees photos of herself as a baby and hears from him about how much he loved her. He also explains that her mother was just not able to cope with the job of parenting. Lucy returns to the children’s home and to a Christmas party, where she sees some angry scenes between several of the male care workers who finally confront their colleague Ben about his inappropriate sexual behaviour with Lauren. This seems to provoke Lucy into leaving again, this time to visit her mother’s home where she manages to gain entry through the back door. Lucy surprises her Mum and gives her a Christmas present, whilst asking if she can stay and live with her. In the poignantly painful scene that follows, Lucy is once again disappointed. 

Relevance to the field of Mental Health

The Unloved is a film that gives its viewer a child’s eye view of life in a children’s home.  Because it is informed by the director’s personal experience it has some authority on this matter. For this reason the film offers an invaluable insight for anyone who might deal with children who are in, or have recently been in, residential care but also for those professionals dealing with adults who were in care when growing up. For those interested in a gaining greater understanding about residential homes for children, there is a recent research publication, commissioned by the last Labour government, entitled Living in Children’s residential homes which may be a useful resource to read alongside a viewing of the film. This short study examines the characteristics and circumstances of the young people who live in residential homes and looks at the short-term outcomes for them. It is freely available to download from the Department of Education website

The Unloved captures very well the sense of isolation and loneliness that its main protagonist Lucy suffers in the care system, without being able to connect with or express the emotions that she is struggling to process. This film might be a useful starting point for a more general discussion on the psychological development of children and the key elements that constitute ‘good enough’ parenting.

Although this film is not always easy to watch, I would strongly recommend it to all health professionals but especially those working with children and adolescents.

* There is further information about The Unloved at IMDB and a short trailer at Channel 4. * The DVD can be purchased at

* Minds on Film is written by consultant psychiatrist Dr Joyce Almeida.


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About this blog


Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida
Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.