An adaption of the short story of the same name by Oscar Wilde, The Selfish Giant is the story of two young boys; Swifty (Shaun Thomas) and Arbor (Connor Chapman), on the verge of becoming adults all too early in life and getting caught up in the clasps of the big bad world.
Shot against the beautiful backdrop of the Midlands in the UK, the film offers a sad but sweet insight into the lives of young boys from struggling families. Arbor is young and all too energetic; with a medical condition similar to ADD, he often finds himself unintentionally deep in trouble, and Swifty his sidekick is loyal to the core with a shy passion for nature and animals that he doesn’t want people to find out about in case it dis-credits his“tough-guy reputation”. When the institutional education system fails them, the boys get caught up in the idea that they can use their wayward youthful ways to make money scrapping for metal. Here they are quickly exploited by the owner of the scrap yard, the selfish giant, Kitten (Sean Gilder).
Streets littered with rubbish and houses falling apart next to the strong greens of the countryside make for a strong contrast. The dream-like world of muted pastels, sunsets and greens of the hills collides head on with a horribly bleak and daunting world of overwhelming poverty, drinking and drug abuse and broken families.
The film is punctuated with moments of high tension and drama. Fights. At home. in the school yard. on the street. The flow is consistently interrupted in a way that manages to create further engagement and build character development of the two boys. What is most interesting is the use of noise and the build-up this creates. There is never much noise. Nor much music. Echoes and electric hums dispersed with silence add a new layer of intensity and mirror the confusion and the stop and start pace of the boys lives. Just as things get going, they fall apart again.
Clio Barnard’s direction manages to be succinct and subtle. The spirit and energy of the young boys really shines through. Although at times frustrated by their actions, you are always on their side. Chapman does an exceptional job of conveying the angst-ridden, energetic, confused teenager looking for someone to look up to. His destructive acts without purpose,
The issues raised beg questioning of how the education system can let two individuals such as these slip through the cracks and how there cannot be more people looking out for youth. Kids get left by the wayside all too often and are easily swayed by any influence that walks into their life. Be warned; it’s not a happy ending, or a happy beginning. Confrontational, and not for the light of heart, The Selfish Giant offers an informed insight into a world that we may be otherwise oblivious to, and isn’t that what cinema is all about?