The Selfish Giant

The UK has a rich history of Social-Realist cinema dating back to the early days of film. In more recent times, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh have carried the flag, but arguably it was at its peak in the 1960s with films such as Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner and A Kind of Loving. There is a new wave of female British directors tackling the genre with Andrea Arnold & Lynne Ramsay leading the way, but following on from her documentary about Andrea Dunbar (The Arbor), Clio Barnard has made a film which states her claim to join them.< Arbor (Conner Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas) are two young lads living on the edges of society in Northern England. Growing up on a tough estate and from families living on the brink of abject poverty, the friends have very different characters: Arbor is over-active and aggressive, always looking for schemes to make money; whilst Swifty is kind natured and animal loving – both bound together by their friendship. The pair, encouraged by nefarious scrap yard owner Kitten (Sean Gilder), begin scavenging and stealing metal to make money. However, Kitten’s real passion is illegal horse racing, and as they get drawn in to his world the stakes begin to rise. [youtube][/youtube] Whilst Barnard’s starting point is Oscar Wilde’s short story, don’t expect the narrative to run along the same lines. It’s bleak. It’s relentless. Unlike the work of say Loach and Leigh, there is very little in terms of redemption or sunshine peeping through the clouds. However, when it does show its face, it feels all the more realistic for it. Set in Bradford, she has plucked the child leads from obscurity, and both Connor Chapman and Shaun Thomas deliver striking performances (Chapman was also excluded from school). The Selfish Giants paints a frightening portrait of the underclass in Britain today. It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and shies away from even a hint of melodrama. We live in a society today with many issues, and its brand of miserablism which will strike a note of truth with many as the country tries to find a way out of a depression. However, Barnard’s film is not in any sense preachy, but is a modern fable about the dangers of allowing people to fall through the cracks. The Selfish Giant is out now at the Showroom.

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