Arbor and Swifty are two young boys struggling to find purpose and identity in their impoverished Yorkshire town. They are the best of friends, but while they bond over their own home and school problems, it turns out that they don't necessarily bring out the best in each other. When Arbor is expelled from school for starting a fight while trying to defend Swifty against bullies, he finds himself with nothing to do and no purpose. He takes Swifty out of school in a bid to start making money and they meet an unprincipled scrapdealer named Kitten, who puts them to work uncovering scrap metal and cables to sell on for profit. However, friendships are tested when Arbor finds himself getting increasingly more left out of the business, while his parents are at odds with what to do about their son's latest antics.
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Inventive British filmmaker Barnard takes on Oscar Wilde's children's story with the same artistic creativity that made her previous film, the edgy drama-doc The Arbor, such a triumph. But this isn't a movie for kids; it's about them. And it's such a provocative combination of gritty reality and youthful energy that it's sometimes difficult to watch. Especially as the shattering finale approaches.
Set on the grubby edges of Bradford, the story centres on fast-talking young teen Arbor (Chapman), who always seems to be in trouble. When he drags his nice-guy pal Swifty (Thomas) into another crazy scam, they get thrown out of school. But Arbor sees this as an opportunity to use their free time to collect metal to sell to scrapyard owner Kitten (Gilder). For Arbor, his main goal is to get out of his messy house, where he lives with his mum (Manley) and bullying big brother (Tittensor). Swifty's home-life with his shouty parents (Evets and Finneran) isn't much better, and he loves spending time working with with Kitten's prized horse. On the other hand, Arbor keeps coming up with risky ideas to earn more cash.
Barnard is an expert at finding beauty in the ugliest people and places, and this film sometimes feels like it's wallowing in working-class shabbiness. But she gives her uneducated characters a sense of intelligence, artistry and integrity that makes us want to spend time with them even though no one speaks in a reasonable tone of voice. Anger boils over quickly, with screaming rants and violent outbursts, so it feels like life for these people is very difficult, not just economically but also emotionally.
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