Tag Archives: England

The Selfish Giant

7 Mar

the selfish giant


Director: Clio Barnard

Writer: Clio Barnard

Stars: Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 91 minutes


Clio Barnard, the British writer director of The Arbor (2010), was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s short story for children to bring this piece of social realism to the screen. Wilde’s giant owns a beautiful garden in which children love to play on their way home from school. Barnard’s giant is a tough scrap metal merchant and his ‘garden’ is the rusting, dark and dangerous yard for which most children stay clear. That’s the children regularly attending school, the children with parents to worry about them whilst they get on with their homework. That’s not the two children at the centre of this tale; Arbor (Conner Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas).

The two boys hanging around the scrap metal yard come from an impoverished community on the edge of Bradford. They live on council estates in broken homes. Jobs are scarce, life is hard and there is a pervading air of anger and despair. Both boys, best friends around 15 years old, show flashes of anti-social behaviour from the outset, but Arbor is particularly troubled. He is on medication, clearly struggles to control himself and rarely attends school. He sees the scrap yard as a way to make money and drags along the gentle and mature Swifty. They annoy the yard owner Kitten (Sean Gilder), but he allows them in, gives them odd jobs and takes an interest in Swifty.

The story is simple. It follows the boys’ interactions with Kitten, the escalation in risks they’re willing to take to collect scrap and the impact of both on their friendship. Throughout there are some beautiful shots of dusk and dawn in the boys’ neighbourhood; of pylons, common ground, stray horses and vacant lots. Everything is haggard and past its best, but at the same time the cinematography pulls something from the void. It is rarely hopeful, but it is beguiling.

Whilst the story is simple, there is more going on in this film to subtly challenge the viewer. As with Wilde’s fable for children, themes touched upon include the end of childhood and the bonds between friends and within communities. Arbor and Swifty have their friendship challenged by their interaction with Kitten and the scavenging for scrap ekes away at their childishness. They are forced to become ‘adults’ and that’s as sad as the broken communities in which they roam. As such this is a deeply affecting film and I shed a tear or two at the end. Clio Barnard has produced a perfectly small, powerful and moving film about real life and with two excellent performances from the young and novice actors.

What Richard Did

11 May

What Richard Did


Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Writers: Malcolm Campbell (screenplay), Kevin Power (novel)

Stars: Jack Reynor, Roisin Murphy, Sam Keeley

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 88 minutes



I have a 17 year old nephew who is considerate, sensible and sociable, but I worry about him. His access to almost any type of adult accoutrement is vast. He is wired into the Internet 24/7 and is seemingly bombarded with images of sex, drugs and the rock n roll lifestyle ad nauseam (if not the real things). It is incredibly different to how I entered adulthood circa 25 years ago. He is sensible enough to navigate it all, but I still worry that he will be caught out.

There are many commentators that express concerns about the over-sexualized and celebrity entranced consumer kids of today. This film review will not add much to the debate, but its subject is highly relevant. What Richard Did has been described as a ‘wake-up call for Ireland’ and as a ‘defining moment for Irish youth culture’. As such other film critics have viewed the character of 18 year old Richard, his lifestyle, ambitions, close friends and errant behaviour as symptomatic of serious social change. Those critics seemingly worry about Ireland in ways that I worry about my nephew here in England.

Richard Karlsen is 18 and this film follows him through that summer that sits intoxicatingly between finishing school and heading to university. Richard (played by Jack Reynor) is the alpha teenager of his group. He plays rugby at a high level, is a good looking lad and has plenty of friends and a fair amount of respect from them and their parents. That group is well enough off and flits between Dublin and holiday homes on the Wicklow coast. They drink and party, camp out and fool around with each other and keep away from adults. It’s that summer.

The film hinges on an unsavoury incident at an out-of-control house party in Dublin. Richard is drunk and lashes out at a lad paying too close attention to his girlfriend Lara (Roisin Murphy). Jealousy, pride and anger hinted at before pour out of him. In the blink of an eye everything changes, for the worse. The second half of the film deals with the aftermath and as such is about shame, grief, and the bonds of friendship.

This is a powerful and moving film. It is incredibly well made with excellent photography, smart editing and a wonderful score. The director Lenny Abrahamson is clearly very talented. At its centre is a rather mind-blowing performance by Reynor as Richard. He is exceptional and has to become a major star. His acting, like the film, is very natural. Richard is calm, slightly brooding, and unsettlingly confident. He, like many 18 year old boys, is difficult to fathom and Reynor nails the performance. What Richard Did may or may not define a generation, but it feels topical and it certainly carries quite an impact.

%d bloggers like this: