The Selfish Giant (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner23/10/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 91 mins

Writer-director Clio Barnard's follow-up to The Arbor is a superbly acted, beautifully shot and emotionally devastating childhood drama in the tradition of Ken Loach's Kes and Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Clio Barnard (who made drama-doc The Arbor), The Selfish Giant is (very) loosely based on the children’s story by Oscar Wilde. Set in present-day Bradford, the film stars Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas as Arbor (presumably named in tribute to Barnard's previous film) and Swifty, two 13 year old best friends who both come from poverty-stricken families and are being failed by the school system.

When both boys are thrown out of school for fighting bullies, hyper-active wheeler-dealer Arbor finds some stolen copper and sells it to dodgy scrapyard owner Kitten (Sean Gilder), who he then persuades to take on the two boys as scrap metal collectors. However, Swifty begins to bond with Kitten after showing an affinity for horse-training during a trap race, leaving Arbor to come up with increasingly dangerous plans to make money.

The Good
Newcomers Chapman and Thomas are both terrific as Arbor and Swifty – essentially a sort of miniature version of Of Mice and Men's George and Lenny - and their powerful bond of friendship forms the emotional heart of the film. Chapman is particularly excellent, fizzing with scrappy energy and never letting a setback (such as getting ripped off by another scrap metal dealer) keep him down for long.

There's also superb support from Gilder (best known as Shameless' Paddy Maguire), who makes Kitten a more complex figure than he first appears and from Siobhan Finneran (Downton Abbey's Miss O'Brien) as Swifty's put-upon mother, Steve Evets as Swifty's shifty father (there's an amusing scene where he literally sells the family sofa out from under his children) and Elliott Tittensor as Arbor's bullying older brother (one of several shades of Kes).

The Great
Barnard's script is excellent, painting an affecting and powerful portrait of working class Bradford that's rooted in realism. Similarly, Barnard keeps tight control of the material throughout and pulls off some effective tonal shifts, from a terrifying moment where a furious Kitten threatens to put Arbor's arm in the wire-stripper, to unexpected moments of laugh-out-loud comedy (Arbor ordering the police to take their shoes off in his house), to an utterly devastating finale that seems to have been inspired by one of those nightmarish Public Safety Information adverts from the 1970s.

In addition, the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Mike Eley, who finds a bleak poetry in the Bradford landscapes, both urban and rural.

Worth seeing?
The Selfish Giant is an impressively directed and powerfully emotional British childhood drama with a superb script and a pair of astonishing performances from young newcomers Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

The Selfish Giant (15)
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Content updated: 16/12/2017 22:15

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