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Movie Reviews

The Selfish Giant



selfish giant

Released: October 25th 2013

Directed By: Clio Barnard

Starring: Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Fusing a unique naturalistic docu-style and lip-syncing theatricality with the real-life experiences of British playwright Andrea Dunbar, Clio Barnard’s 2011 debut ‘The Arbor’ was critically heralded for its refreshing restraint in being confined by convention. Tapping into a less lengthy and child-friendly work of well-renowned poet Oscar Wilde, director Barnard’s follow-up may cut loose with her social realist approach stripping the fairytale excesses of the source material, yet is razor sharp and unflinching in bringing a new dimension with her assessment of the working-class and their collective moral code in modern Britain.

‘The Selfish Giant’ predominantly is led by a mischievous double act with diminishing interest in respecting authority figures and drive to succeed in their respective educations. Enthusiastic motor (foul) mouth Arbor (Connor Chapman) and reserved best buddy and horse obsessive Swifty (Shaun Thomas) are thieving drifters based in Bradford, ultimately craving a premature entry into the adult world of hard graft, as their long suffering poverty-stricken families continue to struggle on a daily basis to provide.

School authorities growing intolerant of their inappropriate behaviour. Their maternal figures (Rebecca Manley and Siobhan Finneran) increasingly fearful of the pair walking down the same ‘beaten path’ as their troublesome elders. Playing out as a fitting visual metaphor for the protagonists, the scrapyard becomes Arbor and Swifty’s unorthodox playground. Looking to impress, they resort to aiding the admittedly shady Kitten (Sean Gilder) in the collection of scrap metal by any means necessary.

Barnard’s interpretation of the material centres around the notion of class and the flawed illusion shared by many children in modern society. Their eagerness to grow up all too quickly and embrace the ‘luxuries’ of adults that elude their youth, whilst in an oblivious mind-set never quite understanding the potential pratfalls. Never overpowering in its scrappy social-realist stylistics, Barnard keeps it poetic and understated in her assured direction.

Interchanging between the haunting mid-shots of the industrial landscape and the stirring beauty of its extreme rear-view/close up camerawork, they prove fitting motifs to drive home the grim desperation of the plight shared by all involved as they’re left with limited legitimate options. Armed with a script light on lengthy prose and heavy on hard-hitting and sporadic slyly funny profanity, it proves the ideal foundation to fuel two quality turns. Both newcomers Shaun Thomas and Conner Chapman as Arbor and Swifty show remarkable glimpses of maturity and effortless assurance in their performances that ultimately defies their years, whilst the likes of Sean Gilder’s Kitten impressively ‘fray’ out the narrative edges.

Oscar Wilde once said ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’

British cinema may often embrace the aesthetic of the former, but ‘The Selfish Giant’ reinforces why many remain intrigued by the talents of the latter. An emotionally charged cinematic beauty that consistently bruises and ultimately breaks you.

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