The Selfish Giant is out in UK cinemas and on video on-demand today. The first feature film from director Clio Barnard, who impressed in 2010 with the non-fiction film The Arbor, it’s a moving, thoughtful tale about what happens when children are excluded from society.
Clio returned to Bradford after The Arbor to film the story, which is inspired by a fairytale by Oscar Wilde. It stars newcomers Shaun Thomas and Conner Chapman as two boys, Arbor and Swifty, who turn to scrapping as a way to make money. We spoke to her at the UK premiere of her film at the London Film Festival about working with kids, adapting Oscar’s story and the film’s digital release:
Where did The Selfish Giant come from?
When I was doing The Arbor, there were lots of children hanging around the set whom I got to know really well and whom I felt were getting a bit of a raw deal because… I guess I felt their value wasn’t being recognised or acknowledged. There was one boy in particular, he and his best friend – I was just really captured by them, I suppose, and really wanted to make a film about them.
How did Oscar Wilde get involved?
Well, it’s a fairy story by Oscar Wilde called The Selfish Giant and it’s about combining these two things: I wanted to do a contemporary retelling. The original is about what is lost if you exclude children – and it seems to me that the children I encountered were like that in the Oscar Wilde book.
It’s quite a loose adaptation with a lot of focus on the children. What made you change it so much?
The [original] version is written from the giant’s POV and I guess in a very literal way, the giant in the story is Kitten (Sean Gilder – the scrap metal merchant), but I realised I was much more interested in the friendship between the boys, so it switched. I had a debate with myself about whether to keep the title and in the end I decided to keep it. I think the ending has a similar feeling, in that it’s bittersweet.
The two young actors in the film are incredible…
That whole thing never work with children and animals? No, they were great! I think they’re absolutely, totally and utterly brilliant. If it wasn’t for them and their performances, the film wouldn’t work.
Conner Chapman, in particular, is very emotional at the end of the film. How do you get that intensity out of a young boy who’s never acted before?
I think it’s a combination of lots of different things. It was a collaboration between us. Some of the choices that were made were their choices, but the adult actors were generous, they were phenomenally generous – and phenomenally good actors. They’re, I don’t know how to put, they’re really like the kind of pillars who hold them in a way.
The film is being released in cinemas and video on-demand on the same day. What do you make of that?
I think the more available it is, the better. Not everyone can get to the cinema and I guess it makes it more accessible – that’s got to be a good thing!
The Selfish Giant is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I watch The Selfish Giant on pay-per-view VOD?
Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for BFI