The Selfish Giant
Monday 14th October, 9pm – Odeon West End, Screen 2
Wednesday 16th October, 8.45pm – Curzon Mayfair, Screen 1
The Selfish Giant follows two hard-up Bradford boys, Arbor and Swifty, as they pack in school and take up working for a dubious local scrap yard. While the scenes are gorgeous, the acting convincing and the direction solid, the film doesn’t have an original bone in its body. The short story on which it is based (Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant) features a grumpy giant who banishes children from his garden, only to find it shrouded in perpetual winter in their absence. Writer and director Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant has nothing in common with Wilde’s tale, despite apparently taking inspiration from it.
Arbor is tempestuous and troubled with a serious temper. The only person who can calm him down is his best friend Swifty. Together this Northern George and Lennie get themselves expelled from school and take up scrapping for the local yard owner Kitten. But as the work becomes ever more morally questionable, the boys’ friendship – once so strong – is stretched to breaking point.
Barnard describes her film as “a story about the dangers of excluding children.” While The Selfish Giant is a compelling tale, this statement might as well be referring to a different film completely. If anyone excludes children here it’s the children, as they are responsible for themselves. Arbor is unlikeable – he has the gab of a cheeky chappy without the charm. He respects money and his mate Swifty, but not his family, not his schoolwork and certainly not the law. He is the anchor that drags down those around him, and it’s difficult to forgive him for that, even when things inevitably start to get tough.
Unfortunately, The Selfish Giant has neither the empathetic characterisation of a Shane Meadows film, nor the originality of an Andrea Arnold story. Instead it feels like a checklist of every working class stereotype. Broken families? Check. Gypsy horse racing? Check. Plenty of swearing? Check.
Yet it is beautifully shot. Mike Eley’s cinematography is at times breathtaking, particularly his industrial landscapes surrounded by livestock. The film is also well-acted. Connor Chapman’s Arbor is extremely convincing, and Shaun Thomas’ Swifty plays with just the right amount of pathos to get the audience to root for him without feeling sorry.
While it occasionally sparks, it never really catches fire, but all in all, The Selfish Giant is a decent hack at the increasingly prevalent Northern social-realism genre.
The Selfish Giant is released in the UK on 15th November 2013. It is part of the official competition at the 57th London Film Festival.
Watch the trailer for The Selfish Giant here: