Selfish Giant, The

The Selfish Giant (15)

Loosely adapted from a story by Oscar Wilde this tale of street urchins and society’s have-nots is a bleak and powerful rendering of Britain’s black economy and the unfortunates that slip through the cracks.

Writer/director Clio Barnard returns to the social realist/kitchen sink milieu she previously explored in Andrea Dunbar’s The Arbor. Once again she uses urban Bradford as her backdrop. Once again she focuses on people in a hardscrabble world of exploitation and intimidation.

And with a largely no-name cast of newcomers she brings forth an intense understanding of people who exist within a unique sub-class, and who have slipped below the radar of the authorities’ view.

With a dab of Ken Loach and flavour of Mike Leigh Barnard paints a portrait that is almost Dickensian as Arbor and Swifty (Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas), two juvenile miscreants from dysfunctional families, partner truancy with a new career as scrap metal dealers.

Both kids are prime fodder for being ripped off, not least by Kitten (Sean Gilder), a scrap trader who uses the boys to steal railway cabling regardless of the dangers involved.

The Selfish Giant makes for uncomfortable viewing. There is little hope for our heroes, little chance of breaking free of penury and the dreaded knock from the bailiffs. Instead Arbor and Swifty seem destined for a bad end.

In films such as Kes and Raining Stones Loach and Leigh presented the barest hint of optimism. Barnard prefers to follow the line of despair. That theme is ably represented by Chapman and Thomas, one a fast-talking shyster, the other a horse-loving gentle giant, as haplessly they ricochet around a gaggle of street-smart operators.

Barnard has rooted herself heavily in Dunbar country. Her central character is named after a Dunbar play and sharp-eyed buffs will recognise Siobhan Finneran – Rita from Rita, Sue and Bob Too! – as Shifty’s sad-eyed mother and Robert Emms (from The Arbor) as a pub landlord.

Star rating: ****

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