Everyone knows the story of The Selfish Giant. Even if you think you don’t, you probably read it at some point during primary school. It’s an Oscar Wilde penned short story about a (selfish) giant who learns to share his magical garden due to a Jesus metaphor child and perpetual winter based curses. Film Four have taken this charming children’s tale and turning it into one of their “the North is bleak” dramas. Now it’s about kids stealing shit and swearing a whole load. And it’s aimed at adults.
The film follows the story of two teenage boys, Arbor and Swifty, growing up in a Yorkshire town. When they are kicked out of school the pair start stealing copper wiring to help out their destitute families under the watchful eye ironically named local scrap metal dealer Kitten. From there on in it’s the old tale of crime not paying and the corruption friendship destroying corruption of innocence. At its core the film, like Wilde’s story, is a fable about the importance of childhood, but instead of children redeeming the ogre, in the film they are (out of necessity) corrupted by him.
The bleakness in The Selfish Giant comes in part from the fact that it is inspired by a teenager that director Clio Barnard met while she was making her debut film The Arbor. As much as this is a morality tale, it’s also a realistic portrayal of poverty in Britain. It’s full of things that the middle class audience the film is (let’s be honest) probably aimed at assume just don’t happen in Britain anymore. The use of horse and carts as actual transport instead of a sedate way to tour the grounds of a stately home in particular is very reminiscent of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. The difference is that for Arbor and Swifty, they’re not living this life because of tradition.
The two teen actors at the centre of the film are also worth note. Considering films like This Is England, Film Four seems to have a knack of picking out children who can really act in a way that the saccharine cutesiness of the big Hollywood money never quite manages to achieve. Played by non-professional actors Conner Chapman (Arbor) and Shaun Thomas (Swifty) have both been garnering fantastic reviews for their debut film. This is also Clio Barnard’s first fiction film and she too is receiving acclaim.
The Selfish Giant isn’t a film that’s going to be showing in a lot of cinemas, which is a shame. No-one seems to have a bad word to say about the film and it went down a treat at the London Film Festival (if Film Four’s Twitter feed is to be believed). It’s also not the most cheerful film, cute children’s story roots aside. If you’re after something to warm away the autumnal blues, this won’t be it. The trailer’s full of utterly grey Yorkshire. I am (possibly how up to date my knowledge of things from Yorkshire actually is) thinking of it like Wuthering Heights, just with fewer moors, irritating heroines and Kate Bush songs.
The Selfish Giant is out in select cinemas nationwide on Friday 25th October and should be coming to Norwich later in the year.