Following the success of her debut feature The Arbor, Barnard returns to Bradford for The Selfish Giant, a superb, beautiful story of friendship. Loosely based on Oscar Wilde’s children’s story, the film tells the story of Arbor and Swifty, two local boys, disillusioned with school, decide to make some extra money by selling scrap metal. Their mission leads them to Kitten, the local scrapyard owner, who pays the boys minimal amounts to do his dirty work. With both boys having difficulties in their home life, particularly with the male members of their families, Arbor in particular naively looks to Kitten as a role model figure, and his willingness to please him leads both the boys astray.
The deep connection that Barnard has with the Buttershaw estate in Bradford where part of the film was shot, is apparent, and there’s a real beauty captured in the industrial landscape of the town. Comparisons have been drawn to Kes, and it’s not hard to see why. Both Loach and Barnard are driven by a sense of commitment to those whose stories they are telling, and like Kes, The Selfish Giant, whilst fitting easily in to the ‘social realist’ genre very comfortably because of the melancholic tone, is hopeful, and Barnard really projects the good in her characters, and seeks out positivity even when it is hard to find.
Whilst the film is hopeful in many ways, there’s an unescapable sense of dread that runs throughout the piece. The dull crackling of electrical wires adds to the feeling, much like in a horror film, that something sinister is looming, it’s almost unbearably tense in parts. However, the ray of sunshine in the dreary landscape are the lead performances. The two boys are played by non-actors, Shaun Thomas, who plays Swifty, and Connor Chapman who plays Arbor, and both give exceptional performances. Arbor is something of a live-wire whose behaviour is often erratic, and the much calmer Swifty perfectly balances him out. The boys really love each other, and their bond is the most striking and genuine to come out of the cinema in recent years. Despite his apparent cheek, Arbor is intuitive, and feels responsible for Swifty, though his support is often misguided. The extended cast all give sterling performances, and the love that Barnard feels for her characters shines through.
The film is a celebration of friendship, loyalty, and also to all that is great with British Cinema. It’ll be hard to find many films this year that will leave you feeling as hopeful about what British Cinema can achieve, it’s simply brilliant.
Review written for The Fan Carpet