Clio Barnard’s The Arbor
was an astonishing debut film for so many different reasons. Telling the tragic life story of playwright Andrea Dunbar and the turbulent lives of her neglected children that was to follow, The Arbor
refused to sugar-coat anything. This brave and bold documentary used re-enactments, archive footage, interview audio and lip-syncing in order to give it great depth and texture. Three years later, Barnard has released her second feature film, proving that she is a strong voice and force within the contemporary UK film industry. The Selfish Giant
has a much more straight forward narrative and differs greatly from The Arbor
in a number of ways. Arbor and Swifty are kindred spirits, a beacon of hope for one another amidst their unstable home lives and their high school education. Arbor wants nothing more than to earn money and provide for himself and his mother. Swifty is passionate about horses. As both young boys turn their backs on school, with the intention of earning their way out of their suffocating situations, their friendships, morals and limits are tested. Along with British cinema classics such as Loach’s Kes
or Ramsay’s Ratcatcher
there is a constant lack of hope that festers in this story. Both boys will gradually learn, the hardest way possible, just how difficult some situations are to escape. The boys will eventually face some bleak consequences that can never be undone, drawing our attention to the viscous cycles faced by our country’s underclass. Barnard has succeeded in directing this feature with elegance and precision. The sense of impending doom that lingers in every scene does not waver once and is fully blamed on capitalism and the greed of those with certain types of power.
Every shot within the final half an hour of the film feels like it is going to be the last. Barnard knows exactly how to execute the perfect cinematic image and she does so repeatedly during The Selfish Giant, particularly in the film’s final third. The performances throughout the film are of a high standard. Steve Evets gives a strong, brief performance and Sean Gilder seems to have succeeded in breaking away from any association with his character from Channel 4’s Shameless. The two central performances, given by Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas are exceptional. Their performances are a cinematic first for both boys, making what they have achieved even more commendable. Underneath it all – the exploitation, injustice, crime, greed and suffering – this is a story about friendship. The character’s make mistakes and, despite their misjudged actions, their hearts remain open and their intentions remain basic. This is a very simplistic story told in a rich and intelligent way. Some of the dialogue and delivery occasionally felt slightly stiff but this really is the mildest of complaints. Clio Barnard, through this impressive follow up to a flawless debut, demonstrates her importance to Britain’s cinema industry; right here and right now. The Arbor ignited my initial excitement in Barnard’s talent. The Selfish Giant confirms Barnard as not only a talent, but a consistent one. The Selfish Giant is not a masterpiece like The Arbor was but it demonstrates this director’s ambition, capability and versatility.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.