By Claudia Siefen

A group of spectators form a rolling road-block while two trotting horses, with sulkies and riders, run a fast race on a public highway and large sums of money exchange hands. In Road Race, (2004) the director questions the aspiration of documentary to collapse the distance between reality and representation. An amazing artwork because of its energy and brutality and the unusual twist and thoughts behind it.

After her film The Arbor (2010) dealing authentically of working-class life and the so called “questionability” of transferring it onto the big screen. The daughter of a university lecturer, Barnard held «workshops» with local boys to write the script and  had informal consultants from the estates where her new film is set. Repeated and varied, it is mainly the filming of the race again which makes us aware of the limits of documentary, and the arbitrariness of what is captured is any movie (cinematography by Mike Eley).

So here with The Selfish Giant we have horses again, the rough, male Traveller’s world, dirty colours and a coughing breath on the back of your neck while watching it. The smell of dirty clothes, unwashed hair and unbrushed teeth, the dirt under fingernails because of scratching yourself and snot and dandruff staying there as a black half moon. It will turn into a complete and obvious tenderness and tears for the two main characters, played by 13-year-old Conner Chapman (Arbor), who in real life lives on the Butterworth estate, and 15-year-old Shaun Thomas (Swifty), who lives on nearby Holme Wood. Together, during their enforced absence from school, the boys enter the scrap-metal business, collecting bric à brac for the local scrap merchant Kitten (Sean Gilder). He’s a «bastard», as Arbor quickly realises, but also the only one  who’ll give the boys a chance (albeit for his own selfish reasons). Arbor and Swifty will take care of each other, but still it is not an easy friendship.

But who is the “selfish giant” here? For me it is Arbor, and here at the end allow me to quote a few words by Wilde: “I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,” said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; “I hope there will be a change in the weather.” – And Swifty’s  dirty fingernails will keep on hurting Arbor just like the nails during crucifixion.

Directed by: Clio Barnard
Producer: Tracy O’Riordan
Screenplay: Clio Barnard
Cinematography: Mike Eley
Cast: Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder, Lorraine Ashbourne, Ian Burfield, Steve Evets, Siobhan Finneran, Ralph Ineson
93 min