The Selfish Giant…a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

July 28, 2014 by Roz Tarszisz
Read on for article

Grim and gritty does work well in the North of England.

Scrappy fields and a landscape strangled with power lines is the setting for this first full-length feature from Clio Barnard, who both wrote and directed. Set on a Bradford, Yorkshire, housing estate, life is hard and its inhabitants poor.

Arbor, (Connor Chapman) is a small and volatile 13-year-old with ADHD (hyperactivity disorder) who takes Ritalin pills – if his elder brother hasn’t sold them first. His friend, Swifty (Shaun Thomas), has a more gentle soul and a way with horses. Expelled from school, the boys start “scrapping”, finding scrap to be stripped down for local metal dealer Kitten (Sean Gilder).

Kitten has a trotting horse, Diesel, which he trains for amateur (and illegal) road races.

The boys hire a horse and cart from Kitten to collect discarded household items to sell to him for cash. They quickly learn that stealing industrial cables and stripping them for their copper is more lucrative – if very dangerous.

The dynamic of the boys’ relationship changes with dire consequences after Kitten gives Diesel to Swifty to train, making Arbor jealous.

Adult males are mean and tough, particularly Kitten, and there is little humour. Swifty is one of seven children and the scene where his father sells the family’s leather couch – bought on hire purchase – is amusing but painful.

The narrative is unsettling and, ultimately, tragic. Performances are uniformly excellent and the characters well drawn. Regional authenticity is important but the use of subtitles (as in some of Ken Loach’s films with which it has been compared) would make the film more accessible to an Australian audience. Though raised in England’s north, I still found chunks of dialogue impenetrable.

The relevance of Oscar Wilde’ fable of The Selfish Giant, who learns the meaning of love only to lose the child he liked best, is a bit obscure. Kitten makes an unlikely giant but there is sacrifice and a note of grace at the end. Not one for the children.


3 out of 5                                   In cinemas July 31, 2014

Rated MA15 (strong coarse language)     Running time: 91mins

Starring Conner Chapman, Sean Gilder and Siobahn Finneran

Written and directed by Clio Barnard

Director of Photography Mike Eley

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