Take a Drink: for sketchball schemes
Take a Drink: for every tantrum or “attack”
Take a Drink: whenever Arbor disrespects authority
Take a Drink: for horses
Take a Drink: for the sinister buzz of high tension wires
Do a Shot: for “exclusion”
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
When you think of an American Independent film, you’re likely to conjure up an image of some Sundance-y dramedy starring a comedian trying to make the transition to “serious acting”. When you think of British Independent film, it’s rather different…
Soulcrushing realism, mostly…
The Selfish Giant is no different, and no less accomplished. It centers on two young ne’er-do-wells from impoverished families in the industrial wasteland of northern England. Arbor (Conner Chapman) is the little shit-kicker firebrand of the pair, full of schemes to make a little cash, while Swifty (Shaun Thomas) is stronger, more reserved, and has a talent for horsecare. This comes in handy when they’re expelled from school and go to work illegally scrounging scrap metal with a horse cart on the behalf of a unscrupulous junkyard man (Sean Gilder). This ends up about as well as these films, and common sense, dictate.
This is Clio Bernard’s first drama after her acclaimed, unconventional Andrea Dunbar documentary The Arbor, and with it she proves worthy of mentioning alongside the Greats of modern British sociorealism- your Andrea Arnolds and Ken Loaches. Her handle on story, her ability to get the best out of mostly non-professional or inexperienced cast-members, and her and DP Mike Eley’s talent for finding a lyrical, beautiful image in any environment are nonpareil. The photography has a nice balance of polish and graininess and should be just the calling card for Eley’s career to really take off.
It’s not easy making this pretty.
Bernard’s script is a tightening noose, a work of almost Shakespearean tragic inevitability. Even with that sense, though, she establishes such a fully realized, normal world out of this place and lifestyle foreign to most of us that when the third act twist occurs, it’s utterly shocking. In real life, even when we know danger lurks, it verges on unbelievable when it does strike, and picking up the pieces afterwards can only commence when the shock fades away.
Acting-wise, every performance rings true, but the central duo of Chapman and Thomas command the screen. Thomas is a gentle giant and loyal friend, an ideal support both as a character and an actor for his volatile friend. Chapman, though, is spectacular, giving an incredibly raw, achingly real performance as a clever, likely emotionally ill kid who bucks against any form of authority as a reflex, and whose small-time criminal ways hide an affecting motivation- he just wants to keep his Mom’s electricity on and the couch away from the repo men.
This is more of a warning than a complaint- you’ll need subs for these thick accents, unless you hail from probably the precise 50 mile radius this film was shot in. It’s also a brutal film for a brutal place- not without its moments of levity, but not something to watch on a rainy day, either.
So, most days in Britain.
The Selfish Giant is an admittedly dreary, but masterfully made drama about two resourceful kids trying to make their way in the world much earlier than they should ever have to.