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The Selfish Giant

Clio Barnard’s poetic adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s children’s story follows two young boys growing up in Yorkshire.


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  • Director-Screenwriter Clio Barnard
  • Producer Tracy O’Riordan
  • With Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder, Steve Evets, Lorraine Ashbourne
  • UK 2013
  • 93 mins
  • 15
  • UK distribution Artificial Eye Film Company

Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name, The Selfish Giant tells the tale of Arbor and Swifty, two young boys growing up in an underprivileged town in Yorkshire. Struggling to fit in at school, and each facing their own challenges at home, the two friends find their seemingly directionless lives given dubious purpose when they meet local scrapdealer Kitten, from whom they learn of the lucrative demand for copper wire. Kitten allows the boys to use his horse and cart to collect scrap metal, but as the pair start getting to grips with the trade, a divide is formed when their mentor starts showing favour towards Swifty, leaving the cocky Arbor feeling excluded and increasingly irresponsible in his actions. Having astounded with the innovative docu-fiction hybrid The Arbor, Barnard employs a more traditional mode of storytelling with this modern-day fable, but one that in no way diminishes the film’s dramatic impact. Recalling the social realism of Ken Loach’s Kes, and the allegorical poetry of Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher and Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, Barnard finds an understated beauty in her austere landscapes, infusing each scene with a sense of visual grace and emotional compassion. But perhaps most striking are the performances from non-professional actors Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas as Arbor and Swifty, who are nothing short of astonishing.

Michael Blyth

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