Writer/director Clio Barnard’s first proper feature The Selfish Giant is drawn from one of Oscar Wilde’s children’s stories but it’s been much changed, especially by taking out the giant.
Writer/director Clio Barnard’s first proper feature The Selfish Giant is drawn from one of Oscar Wilde’s children’s stories (originally published in an 1888 volume) but it’s been much changed, especially by taking out the giant. “Wilde wrote lots of fairy tales,” Barnard explains. “It’s only about four pages long… But it was my favourite. It’s a story where there’s a giant who won’t let children play in his garden, and I think that it’s about what happens when you exclude children, and the things of real value that get lost.” The Selfish Giant also draws inspiration from Barnard’s’s previous effort, 2010’s The Arbor, which she describes as “not strictly a documentary, a sort of hybrid”. “It’s set on the same street in Bradford, and when I was making The Arbor there were lots of kids around and I got to know a few of them, and I discovered that lots of teenage boys there are simply not going to secondary school. I felt angry about the lack of opportunity for them, and the way that they’re pushed to the edge, out of the way… I really just wanted to make a movie where people would care about these kids that I’d got to know.” Many members of The Selfish Giant’s cast were non-actors, including the two leads, Conner Chapman (as a kid symbolically named Arbor) and Shaun Thomas (as his mate Swifty). “Neither of them had ever acted before and when Conner came to the first casting session, he thought it was for a school play. He was really only there to get out of lessons… What both of them had was a strong instinct for story and storytelling, especially storytelling about their own lives. I believed in their imaginations, and I could tell that they could really engage with the reality of the story.” Shot in a naturalistic, low-budget way (which meant that it was “absolutely freezing in February”), Barnard is comfortable with the inevitable comparisons to the work of filmmaker Ken Loach. “Ken’s film Kes was a big influence on The Selfish Giant, and it’s a wonderful film. When I was researching and writing and developing my film, I was interested in sort of ‘realist fables’ that are about children for children, and I watched a lot of these films with my own children, including Kes and Samira Makhmalbaf’s The Apple and Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. They’re films about kids that are seemingly so simple, and kids get a lot out of them… It’s useful for kids to see that experience, and to see that life can be hard, and to have that experience reflected back at them. It’s not always about happy endings.” Uneasy about discussing her next film, Barnard reveals that it’s based on a novel, but adds, “I’m too deeply immersed in it and preoccupied with it to really talk about it… The novel is Trespass by Rose Tremain – but that’s all I’m going to say.” The Selfish Giant (MA) is screening at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas