The Selfish Giant

Critics Consensus

Starkly emotional and beautifully directed, The Selfish Giant uses a lovely script and some powerful performances to present some of the best that modern British cinema has to offer.



Total Count: 85


Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,933
User image

The Selfish Giant Photos

Movie Info

THE SELFISH GIANT is a contemporary fable about 13 year old Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas). Excluded from school and outsiders in their own neighborhood, the two boys meet Kitten (Sean Gilder), a local scrapdealer - the Selfish Giant. They begin collecting scrap metal for him using a horse and cart. Swifty has a natural gift with horses while Arbor emulates Kitten - keen to impress him and make some money. However, Kitten favors Swifty, leaving Arbor feeling hurt and excluded, driving a wedge between the boys. Arbor becomes increasingly greedy and exploitative, becoming more like Kitten. Tensions build, leading to a tragic event, which transforms them all.

Watch it now


Conner Chapman
as Arbor Fenton
Ian Burfield
as Mick Brazil
Siobhan Finneran
as Mrs. Swift (Swifty's Mother)
Steve Evets
as Price Drop (Swifty's Dad)
Rebecca Manley
as Shelly Fenton
Rhys McCoy
as Daniel
Elliott Tittensor
as Martin Fenton
Ralph Ineson
as Johnny Jones
Everal A. Walsh
as Railway Man
John Wall
as School Nurse
Jamie Michie
as Teacher
Bailey Clapham
as Swift Children
Jake Gibson
as Swift Children
Sofina-Rose Hussain
as Swift Children
Peter-Lee Lowther
as Swift Children
Aron Ryan
as Swift Children
Macy Shackleton
as Swift Children
Patrick McCann
as Neighbour
Dougie Rooks
as Deputy Headteacher
Reece Andrews
as Headteacher
James Fox
as Passerby
Kayle Stephens
as Chip 'n' Pin Sulky Rider
Michael Cahill
as 'Smart Price Drop' Man
Paul Chapman
as Caretaker
Beverly Higgins
as School Secretary
Harry Calvert
as Scrap Yard Worker
Robert Hudson
as Power Station Worker
Rob Snell
as Power Station Worker
Max Smith
as Power Station Worker
Chris Yates
as Power Station Worker
Vicki Hackett
as WPC Hayward
Robert Emms
as Phil the Barman
Tim Paley
as Driver
David Peel
as Huddersfield Scrapyard Man
Joshua Haase
as Policeman
Simon Hearn
as Policeman
Mark Pitts
as Policeman
View All

News & Interviews for The Selfish Giant

Critic Reviews for The Selfish Giant

All Critics (85) | Top Critics (27) | Fresh (83) | Rotten (2)

  • Though they share the same title, director Clio Barnard's bewitching follow-up to The Arbor bears little cosmetic similarity to the fluorescent idyll of Oscar Wilde's 19th century children's fable.

    Aug 18, 2015
  • Barnard's work with these two child actors is extraordinary, and she has written a lean script.

    Aug 4, 2014 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • "The Selfish Giant" is a story of dependence, damage and desperation, told with grit and grimy frankness. It's also a portrait of friendship born of need and emptiness, on the road to nowhere.

    Feb 19, 2014 | Rating: B | Full Review…

    Tom Long

    Detroit News
    Top Critic
  • Clio Barnard's The Selfish Giant isn't the Oscar Wilde children's story, but more an inspired take on it in the kitchen-sink style of a Ken Loach drama.

    Jan 23, 2014 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • Ultimately, it's a sad, tough sit - but worth seeing for its gritty honesty and strong cast.

    Jan 16, 2014 | Rating: 3/4
  • Much of the movie is hard to bear, yet it never drags, thanks to the momentum that Barnard finds in the fable, and, above all, to the energy that she unleashes in her young leads.

    Jan 13, 2014 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Selfish Giant

  • Sep 10, 2015
    Barnard displays an incredibly firm hand in the direction of this powerful piece of British social realism that brings to mind the works of Ken Loach and is above all a rich character study with a great onscreen chemistry between the excellent Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Jul 27, 2014
    This British drama written and directed by Clio Barnard, inspired by the Oscar Wilde story of the same name. Talented Clio Barnard is already a well-known British director of documentary and feature films. She won widespread critical acclaim and multiple awards for her debut, The Arbor, and she was hailed as a significant new voice in British cinema for The Selfish Giant, which premiered in the Director's Fortnight section of the Cannes film festival. Her realistic yet lyrical work was compared by some critics to that of Ken Loach. Time Out said of The Selfish Giant, "this is 'Kes' revisited in a post-Thatcher northern England." The casting was simply superb, and Conner Chapman as Arbor, Shaun Thomas as Swifty and Sean Gilder as Kitten were always performing the best possible way! The exceptionally well developed story follows the lives of Arbor and Swifty, teenage boys growing up in an impoverished area of Bradford, northern England. Tiny Arbor suffers from hyperactivity disorder, which often results in trouble for him and his best friend. When the school suspension kicks in, after a fight, the best friends decide to earn money collecting and selling scrap metal. They quickly pick up the "secrets of the trade" and start stealing copper from telecom, railway, and power utilities. Quite lucrative, but dangerous as well... They sell their scrap to a local scrap dealer, Kitten who is horse racing enthusiast... he allows Swifty to work with the horse, once he realizes Swifty's surprising affection for and natural talent with horses. Kitten also lets the boys borrow the horse and a cart to collect scrap metal... or maybe something else? If you are ready for a real life drama put together with gusto by a person who knows her stuff, please check out the Best Film at the 24th Stockholm International Film Festival and the winner of the Europa Cinemas award at the Cannes.
    Panta O Super Reviewer
  • Feb 22, 2014
    2013 first brought us "Jack the Giant Slayer", and now the giants are back for a latter part of the year, though I doubt this film will attract any more viewers than "Jack the Giant Slayer". Forget Jack and his poverty, because the giants aren't getting any love when it comes to money and, well, portrayal, because they were serious jerks in "Giant Slayer", and here, well, they're not even present. Yeah, I suppose I can understand why no one is watching this film, because you must remember that this is inspired by an Oscar Wilde story, which was surely not quite as exciting as the giants its title metaphorically references, and metaphors aren't quite as popular as blockbusters. Well, Steven Spielberg can make anything a blockbuster, and when I see this film's poster with the kid and some horse, I'm not so much wondering where the giant is, Oscar, as much as I'm thinking "War Horse 2: No More Horsing Around". Hey, people, look at it this way: that faux title isn't too much cheesier than "War Horse", which makes it all the more fitting. Yeah, if we're drawing comparisons here, what further reinforces the possibility that this is some kind of a follow-up to "War Horse" is its being both extremely British, and, of course, it's being somehow slower than "War Horse". Come to think of it, I'm starting to find "War Horse" a whole lot more riveting after this film, which is quite the dull misfire, even with its strengths. While near-conventional art house in its overwhelming dryness, the film doesn't give you the courtesy of the visual lyricisms that can at least be praised in other dramas this meditative, yet it's still a looker, with subtly chilled coloration to Mike Eley's cinematography that adds to this effort's light melancholy tone. If nothing else, visual style, at least at times in which the shaky camera isn't carried away, and the imagery is lovely, is aesthetically impressive, and even then, visual style in an otherwise stylistically vacant film is lacking, yet the fact of the matter is that the film at least manages to sustain consistent engagement value for your eyes. Of course, there are times in which the film engages on a deeper level, for although Clio Barnard's thoughtful directorial approach is generally, not simply questionable, but punishing in its draining life out of the film when material lapses, as it very often does, when there is some material sink your teeth into, the naturalistic approach immerses and compels... to a certain extent, I suppose. Most of the film is just so misguidedly handled that the highlights, while somewhat lacking to begin with, never ring all that richly, yet highlights are nonetheless there, engaging pretty thoughtfully, especially when anchored by acting highlights. Material is not simply lacking in this near-do-nothing drama, but kind of obnoxious in its simply drawing somewhat unlikable characters with only so many layers, though there's certainly more inspiration, or at least realization to the acting than the characterization itself, with most everyone, particularly young leads Conner Chapmen and Shaun Thomas, being comfortable enough in their naturalism to sell the roles more than the storytelling, and guide what handful of dramatic highlights there are. In a lot of ways, the film is far from guided, and when strengths stand, they're limited in both quantity and considerability, though that makes them no less present, joining the film's simply being too bland to be bad in securing the final product from contemptibility. Of course, when it's all said and done, the film falls flat something fierce, being a cold misfire that, to tell you the truth, was never to be fired all that far. Through all of the undercooking, pacing issues and punishing atmospheric coldness, the film is undercut right away, in concept, by natural shortcomings, following a dramatically thin path that was never to paint that much detail into its portrait on youths coming of age by coming to terms with their and their peers' flaws, and sees an execution which further thins the strokes of characterization. This character study offers just about no immediate background information, and when it comes to the narrative's body, so much is so slam-banged that you don't get all that much of a sense of characterization, or, for that matter, progression, resulting in an aimless character study that would be easier to forgive if the characters were more likable. The flawed characters gradually become somewhat sympathetic in certain areas, I suppose, and good performances help in getting you by until the characterization highlights kick in, but on the whole, the characters' flaws are drawn a little too thickly in a film that is still so thinly drawn in so many places, resulting in leads who are more obnoxious than anything. Quite frankly, obnoxiousness is ultimately a pretty big problem in this film, not simply because the British accents are so agonizingly thick that you can hardly understand what people are rambling on about (You know, you'd think that's a nitpick, but it really is ridiculous how much the filmmakers clearly actively searched out the most aggravating English accents they could), but because the intellectual value of this "art house" drama is watered down by the excessive obscenities and noisy dialogue that, especially when placed behind already pretty aggravating characters, get to be kind of tedious in their freneticism, which is hard to disregard when you take into account that storytelling is otherwise far from lively enough to be frantic. The final product is very, very short, but like I said, this story concept is very, very thin, and Clio Barnard, as screenwriter, saves a lot of time by thinning exhausting excess in monotonous filler and, if you will, "material" that further shakes a sense of progression, and dulls momentum just about to a halt, until the film becomes cold enough to all but fall into mediocrity. Now, what truly secures the final product as mediocre is, of course, Barnard's cold directorial storytelling, for although the thoughtful naturalism that characterizes Barnard's direction has its effective occasions, more often than not, a lack of score work and atmospheric bite is, as I've said time and again, punishing, so much so that emotional resonance is lost more often than not while the film bores to the point of bordering on contemptible. The film is just so blasted dull, and sure, it has enough moments and, of course, mere blandness to keep from being frustrating to the point of falling as bad, but a dead atmosphere leaves you with plenty of time to soak in the underdevelopment and questionable characterization and structuring that secure the final product as limp, and only profound in its mediocrity. Overall, heights in engagement value go secured by decent visual style, some effective directorial thoughtfulness, and good performances, but decency cannot quite be salvaged from the underdevelopment, unlikable character traits, obnoxious aspects, monotonous dragging and challengingly dull naturalistic telling of a thin story that leaves Clio Barnard's "The Selfish Giant" to fall flat as a misguided and mediocre coming-of-age meditation. 2/5 - Weak
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Feb 17, 2014
    'The Selfish Giant'. The sucker punch of that first beautiful frame to the relentless bleakness that follows is cruel. Miserable, masterful. Outstanding, gritty performances from first-timers, and a director whose future I will follow eagerly, given the worlds she seems to want to delve into.
    c0up   Super Reviewer

The Selfish Giant Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

News & Features