The Selfish Giant (15)

Directed by Clio Barnard
FACT, Liverpool
16-28 November 2013

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

The Selfish Giant is a minor masterpiece of filmaking, with some commenting that it is on a par with Kes, directed by Ken Loach.

Adapted from Oscar Wilde's fairy tale, it is set in a bleak and desolate part of Bradford where two lads, Arbor and Swifty, both aged 13-years-old, played impressively by Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas, have become entrepreneurs in collecting scrap metal, after being excluded from school following bouts of bad behaviour.

In some ways resembling the unscrupulous character Fagin from Oliver Twist, the local scrap metal dealer, the inappropriately named Kitten (Sean Gilder) - another five star performance in the movie - actively encourages them to keep bringing him as much stuff as they can find, no matter whether it be pots and pans or stolen copper wire from power lines.

Despite their faults the boys both have a strong affection for their mums, who are struggling to keep up with paying the bills and look haggard and worn out with life, trying to survive in a 'sink estate' of the first order.

The portrayal of the dilapidated district where they live ie. survive, is captured with telling detail by cinematographer Mike Eley ('Touching The Void', 'Marley'). This is England 2013 for those at the bottom of the capitalist pile - no money, no hope, going nowhere.

Eley also depicts the surrounding landscape with a magical touch, notably the towering electric pylons and mist shrouded disused power stations, the latter symbolic of the post industrial world, brought about by the misbegotten policies rendered by the political hierarchy of the country.

Swifty, in particular, is similar to Billy in Kes, who loved kestrels. But he has a special and natural affinity with horses. Not surprisingly Kitten becomes aware of this and employs him to take part in horse trotting competitions, including a bizarre sequence in the film, where he participates in a race at dawn along a crowded motorway.

Director Clio Barnard, despite the melancholy nature of the picture, nevertheless brings a sense of humour, often tinged in deep black, and an imagination and abstract beauty to the subject matter.

This memorable film will have a lasting impact.

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