VOD film review: Chicken
Matthew Turner | On 11, Jul 2016
Director: Joe Stephenson
Cast: Scott Chambers, Yasmin Paige, Morgan Watkins
Watch Chicken online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Amazon Instant Video
Adapted by Chris New from a play by Freddie Machin, this engaging British coming-of-age drama is set in the Essex countryside and stars Scott Chambers as Richard, a teenager with learning difficulties who lives in a caravan with his violent-tempered older brother, Polly (Watkins). Richard’s constant companion is his beloved pet chicken, Fiona (a proper little scene-stealer), but his life takes an unexpected turn when he meets bored-and-stuck-in-the-sticks teenager Annabell (Submarine’s Yasmin Paige), whose parents own the land Richard and Polly live on.
Chambers is superb as Richard, delivering a sensitive, nuanced performance that reminds you of young Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? – he’s particularly effective in illuminating Richard’s complex, multi-layered relationship with Polly and the palpable love and loyalty he feels towards his older brother, despite the daily abuse and anger he experiences at his hands. He also has a uniquely disarming sense of humour, as well as an intriguing in-his-own-world fantasy life, but the masterstroke of the performance is that Chambers keeps Richard just on the edge of annoying, so that you can sort of see why Polly might eventually crack.
Watkins brings a frightening air of menace, frustration and volatility to his sibling, but while he’s never exactly sympathetic – there are definite, indeed probably deliberate, echoes of the sibling relationship in Kes – you do get a sense of the crushing helplessness of their situation, which goes some way towards humanising the character. Paige is equally good as flirtatious, sparky, bored-to-tears Annabell, who forms a genuinely touching and ultimately protective relationship with Richard, while her scenes with Watkins (particularly a sharp-intake-of-breath moment, where he looms over her in the caravan) are fraught with powerful tension.
Stephenson’s direction is assured throughout, aided by Eben Bolter’s striking widescreen cinematography that simultaneously captures both the beauty and the loneliness of the surrounding countryside. Stephenson orchestrates some moments of real emotional power, as well as packing the film with affecting details, such as the care and attention that Richard pours into preparing Polly’s meagre breakfast.
New’s script does an exceptional job of opening up the play, to the point that it never betrays its stage origins, although it does veer a little too sharply into melodrama in the final act and lays on the caged animal metaphors a little thick. Still, at least Stephenson was savvy enough to procure the services of an excellent chicken-wrangler.
Ultimately, this is a moving and superbly acted coming-of-age drama that marks director Stephenson out as a talent to watch.
Chicken is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.