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on 5 November 2013
`The Selfish Giant' is British filmmaker Clio Barnard's new film, set on the same Bradford estate that featured in her debut `The Arbor'. Swifty (Shaun Thomas) and Arbor (Conner Chapman) are two thirteen year old boys, best friends who always seem to be upto something they shouldn't be in. But theirs is not merely a selfish path of youthful gratification, they know their parents struggles and want to improve their lives.

Victims of their circumstances, expelled from school and lacking a purpose in life, the boys drift aimlessly down a dangerous path. The boys hit upon a scrap metal scam, stealing copper cables left on a railway line by some just as untrustworthy individuals. They soon embark on trying to make a living from scrap metal, twinned with a fascination for horses. Swifty in particular has a gift with horses, and feels even more at home with them then he does with Arbor. He's the more sensitive and innocent of the two, Arbor's behavioural problems (ADHD) and big mouth tends to land them both in trouble.

The boys start to work for a local scrap-dealer named Kitten (Sean Gilder). Kitten shows no qualms about exploiting the boys' willingness to earn money, encouraging them to rent his horse and cart from him in order to collect scrap metal from sources that aren't legal. Kitten also runs an illegal horse-and-cart race, shown in one of the standout scenes, and he wastes no time in employing Swifty as a jockey. Barnard makes a subtle comment on child exploitation, but far more on the world commodities boom which has led to many people taking huge risks where copper has become the new gold. It also illustrates the waste that exists in society , plus how an entrepreneurial spirit can make money out of anything.

`The Selfish Giant' is the sort of film that the British excel in, and there is a point where you do get tired of yet another film about how grim it is up North. But you cannot fault the film, and if anything its nowhere near as bleak as you'd have imagined. First-timers Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas are exceptional, as are the whole cast who give the whole film a naturalistic feel.

There's clearly a lot of anger in this film concerning the way society has let down these boys and forgotten about these communities. Barnard doesn't pull any punches but there is a surprising level of compassion and grace from the adults which really pulls on your emotions. For all the hardships they've suffered there's still something inside them which burns through their grim reality to reveal what it really takes to be an adult and a parent. The final moments of the film are practically dialogue-free, but you won't find a more powerful sequence all year.
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on 27 October 2013
Review for film only: Every so often a film comes along that is absolutely fantastic but falls into the category of 'films you'd never want to watch again'. Amour was the last film in this category and now Selfish Giant is the latest entry. The film focuses on two boys living around Bradford who are thrown out of school and make money for their families by finding/stealing copper and metal and selling it to an dodgy scrap metal merchant. The boys are good friends but this friendship shatters during the course of the film and eventually leads to tragedy. The two leads were apparently plucked from nowhere to star in this film and give absolutely amazing performances, but I would find it unlikely they'll appear in other roles different to this because of how good they are! The support is good also but by featuring Sean Gilder it can feel a bit like you are watching a film version of Shameless. There are one or two parts that seem a little unrealistic and I feel a bit uncomfortable watching it as it all feels too close to home and, the reason I won't watch it again, is because it is certainly not entertaining viewing. However I do certainly recommend one viewing of it, for the acting if nothing else, and it's a film that will stay with you for a long time.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 September 2014
While not audacious and brave in it's style as Barnard's smashing debut "The Arbor", it explores much of the same territory – poverty in northern England. But this time Barnard uses a more neo-realist bent that recalls the films of Ken Loach, among others. And after two viewings, while I missed the wild rule-breaking she did in her first film, I felt she had made a film of gritty honest and emotional force.

The story centers on two young teens (very well played by non-pros). Diminutive Arbor is hyperactive, angry, and so on the edge he can be frightening and simultaneously heartbreaking -- Arbor needs meds just to allow him to be calm enough to function. And there's Swifty, his best friend who is introvert to Arbor's extreme extrovert. Swifty is willing to go along with Arbor's schemes to a point, but he also wants to honor his mother's wish that he get an education, and try to move up and out of poverty.

The two begin collecting (and sometimes stealing) scrap metal to sell to a tough local junk metal dealer, Kitten. This is a man who is capable of being almost a father figure one moment, and stomping you into the ground the next. A sort of modern Fagan, using the boys to do his bidding (although, to be fair, the boys come to him).

A dark, moody and ultimately deeply disturbing film, that refuses to let us or society off lightly when it comes to kids growing up in the cycle of poverty.
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on 5 March 2014
Two young lads, Arbor (Connor Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas) excluded from school, both with a rough and tough upbringings, 'befriend' Kitten a local scrap dealer, they soon both begin collecting scrap, and a decision later has devastating consequences for all.

A working class Brit drama set in a bleak Northern town, this is the type of movie Ken Loach excels at, and Director Clio Barnard can hold her head high to the master himself. Great performances from the two young leads, especially 13 year old Connor, but with a strong cast through out, the movie is gritty, grimy but also very poignant, especially the heart breaking conclusion.
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on 21 May 2016
Dark and gritty interpretation of the classic tale. I enjoyed it but felt it was a little predictable in its use of the Northern poverty device. Four out of five....glad I watched it but I will pass it on now as I don't want to see it again really
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 31 January 2014
This is described as a contemporary fable and yes it is but it is a whole lot more. Set in northern England we meet Arbor, he has to take medication to control his temper, his father has left and his older brother is a drug addict who feeds his habit through petty crime. At school Arbor has a best mate in `Swifty', he comes from an impoverished background where he has numerous siblings and a loser father who spends every penny and is even reduced to selling his own furniture, but his mum sees Swifty's potential.

After an incident at school Arbor gets `excluded' or expelled as we used to call it. Swifty, who he was standing up for, gets excluded but only for a few days. With nothing or `nowt' to do they decide to make some money by working for a dodgy scrap dealer with Romany leanings. This is the strangely named `Kitten'. He is happy dealing in stolen metal and cable and even shows the kids how to avoid the Smartwater that is used as a security device. Swifty has a natural affinity with horses and loves being with them so the rag and bone horse and cart are right up his street. Little Arbor on the other hand just wants to be the next Kitten. As things get ever more desperate on the home, front for both lads, they up the ante on the work almost unaware of the dangers.

This is simply an excellent film, director Clio Bernard - `The Arbor', has made a British realist drama with a heart and soul. The young lads who are the leads are both amazing. At times it feels unscripted or more accurately `natural' and that adds to the realism. The horses or ponies all look beautiful. There is a lot of profanity and some scenes that animal lovers may be upset by, due to how the horses are treated but that should in no way detract from what is a stunning piece of cinema. It was part of the official selection at Cannes and I think deservedly so. So for a piece of realist British cinema that is bursting with emotion you could do a lot worse than giving this a go - I absolutely recommend.
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on 8 February 2014
English screenwriter and director Clio Barnard`s feature film debut which she wrote, is inspired by real events in the life of a real person and a novel from 1888 by Irish 19th and 20th century author, playwright and poet Oscar Wilde. It premiered in the 45th Directors` Fortnight section at the 66th Cannes International Film Festival in 2013, was screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, was shot on locations in England and is a UK production which was produced by producer Tracy O`Riordan. It tells the story about a secondary school student named Arbor who lives in a terraced house with his mother named Michelle Fenton and his brother named Martin. One evening when Arbor and his best friend named Swifty who lives with his parents and six siblings are out riding on a horse, they notice two men who are cutting cables on a railway, scares them off and takes the cables.

Distinctly and eminently directed by English filmmaker Clio Barnard, this finely paced and somewhat fictional tale which is narrated mostly from the two main characters` viewpoints, draws an important and ingrained portrayal of two adolescent boys whom in the hopes of making some money to help out their families begins collecting scrap and delivering it to a scrap dealer. While notable for its atmospheric milieu depictions, reverent cinematography by cinematographer Mike Eley, production design by production designer Helen Scott, film editing by film editor Nick Fenton and use of sound, colors and light, this character-driven and narrative-driven story about young boys with limited options, friendship, a mistreated horse named Diesel, wounds of the human heart which are not healed by magic tricks and values of life which is envisaged by a filmmaker with authority whom is dearly remembered for her unforgettable directorial debut "The Arbor" (2010), depicts a dignified study of character and contains a great and timely score by composer Harry Escott.

This quietly perspicacious, naturally humerous and liable drama which is set in Bradford, England in the 21st century and where a rebellious son and brother without a father-figure whom has been neglecting school and stopped taking his medication and his goodhearted friend and classmate who looks out for him begins working at a scrapyard for an unreliable man named Kitten after an incident at school where Arbor stood up for Swifty after a student disrespected his family and they were excluded, is impelled and reinforced by its cogent narrative structure, substantial character development, rhythmic continuity, distinct dialog, fairy-tale-like realism, subtle style of filmmaking, traces of the origins of English cinema, underlying and emphatic rage which is contrasted by a heartfelt humanity and the genuine acting performances by English actors Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas. An internally graceful, cinematically poetic and strikingly beautiful narrative feature which gained, among other awards, the Bronze Horse for Best Film at the 24th Stockholm Film Festival in 2013.
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on 2 February 2014
I don't know if my copy is defective or if it was made without subtitles, but watching it with one other person also from the south and one a foreigner, none of us could understand much of the dialogue, which was too fast and too accented for us to manage without a bit of support.

What a shame. Another reviewer has said this is a film which you should see once, but then may not want to see again as it is so dark. It was indeed dark, but we missed half of the nuances because of lack of subtitles, but now we know the ending ....

The blond kid's mother seemed a bit too sartorially smart for the role and their kitchen looked pretty smart too. This seemed a bit at odds with the (smartish) sofa being yanked out on to the euphemistically-termed front garden - a grassless wasteland. So there were contradictions. And of course I also wondered why the school did not get the social workers involved, so this also grated too. Just a bit unconvincing.

But apart from that, I thought the acting was very good and the photography atmospheric and convincing. But again, shame about the subtitles.
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on 19 April 2014
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on 15 June 2015
I watched this film on my own and then when my partner noticed it on the watchlist I watched it again with him the next day. It's THAT good.
It's a beautifully shot piece of gritty British cinema with a sensitive hand on the sound tiller. Every main character in it engendered empathy and you WILL cry.
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