Reviewer: Liam Heffernan
Director: Joe Stephenson
Stars: Scott Chambers, Yasmin Paige, Morgan Watkins
Release Date: 20th May 2016
The global film industry is in the midst of one of the greatest blockbuster booms in its history. More films than ever are crossing the billion dollar mark, as we all flock to see the latest superhero smash and visual effects extravaganzas. Blinded by these huge box office behemoths, it’s sometimes hard to see the hidden gems lying deep within the cracks, but if ever there was a film that shines, screaming to be seen, it is Joe Stephenson’s Chicken.
Set in rural working class Britain, the film shines a light on an often neglected pocket of society, with a poignant, understated story about Richard (Scott Chambers) – a teenager with learning difficulties who lives in a trailer with his abusive older brother Polly. Squatting on a farmer’s land, they literally live day to day, struggling to put food on the table.
However, the socio-demographic struggles are merely a metaphor for Richard’s emotional shortcomings. He soon meets Annabel (Yasmin Paige), who at first takes pity on a lonely kid reaching out for company, but a friendship quickly escalates, thrusting Richard into a world he is not prepared for, and one that will challenge his own sense of importance.
This is undoubtedly Richard’s story, as Annabel and Polly are the equally strong-willed angel and devil sitting on his shoulder, playing a game of ideological tug of war.
The bicycle scene is the turning point in this narrative, taking the tone on a sharp 90 degree bend from an enjoyable low budget drama to something much darker and more intense, where all the careful layering of these characters is aggressively unraveled. As Polly and Richard clash, there are unexpected surprises that will leave you in an end credits daze, wondering what you have just experienced; such is its lasting impact.
Chicken also proves that a great character driven drama doesn’t need to rely on established stars to thrive, as Scott Chambers reprises his stage role to bring a character to life. The lack of controversy that surrounds his portrayal of a boy with severe learning difficulties is a testament to the accuracy and sensitivity of his performance, and one that will unfortunately go unnoticed throughout awards season. Meanwhile, his supporting cast of Yasmin Paige and Morgan Watkins are practically perfect, with only sporadic cringe-inducing moments, but maybe that’s a personal thing – there’s something about a cockney accent attempting sentimentality that really grates on me.
If its effects you want, look no further. This may not have the crash, bang and wallop factor of a Marvel movie, but the beautiful cinematography really showcases the British landscape and makes a real case for location filming. The film was restricted by budget, but the team really played to these limitations and used the basic shooting style to emphasise the raw reality in the story.
Chicken is by far the most under-acknowledged film you will see all year, but it is well worth the admission price. Feature director debutant Joe Stephenson presents an extraordinary homegrown drama that wouldn’t sit out of place on the filmography of Britain’s most accomplished helmers.