Is it coincidence, homage or plagiarism that the central duo in Carol Morley's film bear a striking resemblance to Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures?
The film is, after all, about teenage hysteria (well, I think that's what it's about), though the obsessive relationship between Lydia (Game of Thrones' Williams) and Abbie (Pugh) is interrupted early by a tragic and unexplained event, which I suppose I am obliged not to spoil for you.
The story is set in a small, prim girls' school in rural England in 1969. Lydia and Abbie are the very best of buddies (they embrace like long-lost sisters after any separation lasting more than a few minutes and carve their initials into an oak) and each is rebellious in her own way.
Sexually adventurous Abbie gets up the duff in reel one ("He had a car; what can I say?" she explains) and her libidinal curiosity soon extends to Lydia's brother Kenneth (Cole), whose relationship with his sister starts out suspect and gets worse.
Bristly Lydia meanwhile is defiant to her teachers and her apparently agoraphobic mother (Peake), a chain-smoking housebound cliche in pancake makeup.
An outbreak of copycat fainting that takes over the school, apparently sparked by Abbie, lacks any coherent explanation, dramatic or clinical, though a bigger puzzle is the reaction (or rather inaction) of the staff, including the glacially detached headmistress, Dolan.
("They think they're so misunderstood. If they'd any idea what it's like to be a middle-aged woman, they'd know what 'misunderstood' meant.")
It's all supposed to be mysterious and creepily evocative, but it's more mirth-inducing, particularly since most of the "fainting" is executed with an ineptitude that reminds you of the first day in a bad mime class. A preposterous ending, saturated in baptismal overtones, is the last straw.
Writer-director Morley, whose brilliant, confronting 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life, anatomised the death of a woman who lay undiscovered in her North London flat for two years, has cited Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock and Lindsay Anderson's If ... as influences, which is suggestive. Those films, 47 and 40 years old respectively, were groundbreaking for their times but would look dated now, I fancy.
This certainly does.
The main surprise is that the lustrous Scacchi, as a dragon teacher, manages to look unrecognisably grotesque. That's what I call acting.
Cast: Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake, Florence Pugh, Joe Cole, Greta Scacchi, Monica Dolan
Director: Carol Morley Running time: 102 mins
Rating: R16 (sex scenes)
Verdict: Derivative, arty and contrived