The Selfish Giant

Though it does nothing to dispel the long-standing notion that ‘it’s grim up north’, Clio Barnard’s 2013 debut is nevertheless an extremely gripping and superbly-acted tale, concerning two young lads negotiating their way through life in a run down area of Bradford. The Selfish Giant deserves the many plaudits it received upon release, as well as its positive associations with Ken Loach, most obviously Loach’s 1969 drama Kes: this is a grim and gritty film, though there are these faint notes of optimism and humour too, and you end up liking the two poor, put-upon main characters so much you find yourself sitting there wishing they could experience many more lighter moments. It’s set partly within a school, partly within the home, but mostly within the scrap metal trade, an industry that seems at once ancient and strangely modern: scrap collections are still made by horse-drawn cart and men stand around burning oil drums, but there’s lucre to be made by stealing brand new, superfast copper telecom and power cables (even, as in one case, as they’re just about to be laid). Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas give terrific performances as hyperactive Arbor and horse-loving best mate Swifty, while there are also excellent turns by Sean Gilder, Lorraine Ashbourne, Ralph Ineson and Steve Evets in supporting roles. But be warned: Barnard’s film will break your heart. (****)