Northern grit. Boys breaking away, rejecting school. And the rest. Home, thieving.
Teachers know this type only too well. Expelling them would be irresponsible. Excluding them for limited periods might force parents to get a grip. Or let them loose onto the forsaken streets like slaves of the underclass.
Arbor (Connor Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas) are still pre-teens. Arbor feeds off adrenaline and not much else. Swifty is slower, more gentle (“I’m thick like everyone says”), not a leader. He has a feel for horses, which comes in handy when they take a nag and cart, nicking electrical cable for Kitten (Sean Gilder), the local scrappy.
It would be easy to label this as a Loach-a-like, swapping the kestrel for a pony as the emotional hook. But it’s so much more. Writer/director Clio Barnard’s work with these children matches her skill in empathising with the surviving nature of these once thriving industrial heartlands.
The story has tragic elements and yet its search for a life less scunnered fuels the fire. Arbor’s energy is wasted on challenging authority. He’s smart, brave and ingenious in the craft of getting by. Swifty is a follower, a disciple, fascinated by the pony trap races Kitten enters for in the early dawn light along deserted duel carriageways.
Something is happening to British cinema. The Girls Are Coming! Already you have Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher) and Andrea Arnold (Red Road). Now Barnard joins them.
It is a wonderful thing to see – such talent, such confidence, such honesty.