By Jess Fenton
27th July 2014

Borrowing the title from Oscar Wilde, this modern fable found its inspiration from not only the great writer but real life as well, when director Clio Barnard was researching for her first feature ‘The Arbor’. It’s the raw and striking realism amongst the allegory of ‘The Selfish Giant’ where this remarkable film finds its heart - and heartbreaking empathy.

Set in the impoverished Bradford estates of Northern England, we find 13-year-old Arbor (Conner Chapman), who has severe ADD, and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas); the two only each other, and are outcasts from their peers. When both boys are suspended from school, they spend their time “scrapping” for the local scrap dealer Kitten (Sean Gilder). Discovering the boring and dangerous sides of both legal and illegal scrapping, the boys are encouraged to push boundaries thanks to their newfound riches. When Swifty begins to be favoured by Kitten for his skills with horses, it drives a wedge between the boys, and more dangers arise as greed and acceptance cloud everyone's judgment, leading to dire consequences.


Newcomers Chapman and Thomas are remarkable, not only in their onscreen chemistry but in their highly emotional, naturalistic and palpable performances. The character and charisma pulled from these clearly naturally gifted boys is stunning.

Tragic and bleak yet beautiful and powerful, Barnard’s documentary background has worked wonders in her first work of fiction. Her accurate view and retelling of these lives combined with a gift of non-judgmental storytelling creates a justifiably dark world filled with need, desperation, survival and compassion. These storytelling attributes are so rare yet so sorely needed, missed and unmatched among the sea of blockbusters, science-fiction and remakes.

A truly outstanding film all around that is not to be missed.

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