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.