To call The Selfish Giant touching is a massive understatement. It is a film that reaches down into your heart and practically throttles it. It is the gritty story of working class families of Northern England, and their struggle to stay happy and well in the midst of hardship.
Arbor (Conner Chapman) is an aggressive and hyperactive child unsuited for the mainstream school system. When he violently defends his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas), he is expelled from school. Rather than being disappointed he is thrilled, and goes to work as a scrap collector for the local junkyard. Swifty and Arbor begin stealing cables and machinery to support their struggling families and soon become involved with Kitten’s (Sean Gilder) horse cart racing ring. Their moneymaking efforts eventually get the pair caught up with some dangerous characters and even more dangerous situations.
The Selfish Giant, directed by Clio Barnard, is a brutally realistic portrayal of lower socio-economic life in England. The grimy urban settings and dreary, broken characters are stunningly portrayed and remind us of the disparity that exists within Western culture. Some fantastic scenarios, such as the horse racing in the midst of an industrial wasteland, add a flavour to the film that is hard to find elsewhere. Absolutely fantastic shots – cooling towers blanketed in fog, horses standing in a grey field with downed wires – aid in creating an atmosphere that is at once oppressive and magnificent.
The characters of Six Sided Giant are all fantastic. They are interesting portrayals that could easily be mistaken for real people. The casting is spot on; Chapman and Gilder in particular are perfect for their roles. Chapman’s portrayal of Arbor is great, a bit like a restless, angry Macaulay Culkin or an even more menacing Dennis the Menace, with an absolutely smashing haircut. Arbor is by far the most fascinating character in a film full of fascinating characters. Behind his bravado and aggressiveness lies a love for his family and best friend that melts the audiences’ hearts. You can’t help but love him.
The movie makes interesting use of speech and uses North English colloquialisms to firmly plant us in a social setting. You should be prepared to hear the charming Northern pronunciation of the F-Word hundreds of times!
The acting is superb throughout, despite maybe a few instances in which it just seemed a bit off. A fairly noticeable goof, in which a line is mistakenly repeated, is the only other blemish on an otherwise finely made film.
The Selfish Giant has to be one of the most emotional films of the year. It is absorbing, superbly written and crafted, and completely honest. It is a film that you truly experience while watching, and one that will stay with you for a long time after.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Rating out of 10: 8