Last year, I listed a debut feature as my favourite film of the year. The film was Aftersun, Charlotte Wells’ astonishing and deeply felt work of cinematic memory-diving, a film that felt at once thrillingly modern yet shot through with an unutterable timelessness. It provoked a deep emotional response in me, something that becomes all the rarer and more precious when one watches films for a living. It was also the jewel in the crown of a burgeoning new era of British cinema, one that is all the more notable for being almost entirely women-led and steadfastly working class. In the past few years, we’ve seen the likes of Aftersun, Polite Society, Ali & Ava, Saint Maud, Emily, The Souvenir I & II, Perfect 10 and Rocks. At this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival alone, we had the formidable likes of How to Have Sex and Blue Jean. What’s more remarkable than how many of these are debuts or sophomore features is just how good so many of them are. I’d recommend all of them – the likes of Mike Leigh, Terrence Davies, Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold and Lynne Ramsay ought to be proud.
Add another Charlotte – Charlotte Regan, director of Scrapper – to that list. Lest one dismiss this emerging wave of filmmakers as stuck in the British miserablism doldrums, here’s a film that positively bounces with life, owing as much to Edgar Wright as it does to the likes of Loach or Arnold. Like many British portraits of the working class, it doesn’t shy away from pressing issues, namely the precarity of the lives of the people on the fringes. But, as with Clio Barnard’s impressive Ali & Ava, which cannily fed social realism through the hallmarks of classic romance films, Scrapper metes out tough truths with spoonfuls of sugar, fizzing off of a jubilant energy that feels positively youthful. It’s fitting, then, that the film’s protagonist is a twelve-year-old girl, young Georgie (Lola Campbell, in a role that immediately enters the pantheon of great child performances), a flinty roughhouser living entirely by herself after the death of her mother. An enterprising and crafty type, Georgie has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of Child Services, convincing them she is in the care of her uncle, ‘Winston Churchill’. When Georgie’s long-estranged father, Jason (Harris Dickinson) reemerges, Georgie’s carefully controlled life of independence is thrown into chaos.
Father-daughter stories of bonding are a rich source of cinematic fodder, whether its Paper Moon, or, indeed, Aftersun. Regan’s debut stands out from the crowd through the jagged, crackling chemistry of her two leads and an intriguing willingness to utilise moments of absurdist humour and Wright-esque camera tricks to evoke her protagonist’s youthful worldview. A fast-rising star, Dickinson is absolutely wonderful as Georgie’s immature, slightly blockheaded father, only more grown-up than his own progeny in the numerical sense. Forever clad in shorts and bleach-blond tips, it’s an effortlessly charming turn with shades of vulnerability and sadness that rhyme wonderfully with Campbell’s own. As Georgie, Campbell is a force of nature, getting up to no end of mischief in order to survive – including stealing bikes and selling them for parts at the local chop shop.
Vibrant, yet tenderly wrought, the debut feature from British filmmaker Charlotte Regan is yet another exceptionally-made offering from an emerging New Wave of young British filmmakers. Featuring two sparkling performances, the film marks Regan as one to watch.
Regan has a sharp eye for comic timing, and Scrapper is, blessedly, a very funny film – much of its humour drawn from conversations with an improvisational bent to them that gives its scenes a lived-in authenticity. The director’s handle on her absurdist flourishes, which include fantasy sequences, narration from the spiders that live in Georgie’s flat, and occasional pieces-to-camera from supporting characters orbiting Georgie’s life, have a debut-director’s ambition to them. There are any number of whirligig visual stunts throughout the film, some more successful than others – but the sheer energy and joy with which Regan deploys them dulls the complaints to mere quibbles. The cinematography, by How to Have Sex director Molly Manning Walker, matches Regan’s energy in colour and saturation, giving the housing blocks of urban England a real feeling of culture and community. It’s just the latest reminder of the genuine potential of Britain’s young filmmakers in the modern era – an area to continue to watch with great interest, one that pays homage to great filmmakers of the past while surging ever-forward.
Movie title: Scrapper (Regan, 2023)
Movie description: Vibrant, yet tenderly wrought, the debut feature from British filmmaker Charlotte Regan is yet another exceptionally-made offering from an emerging New Wave of young British filmmakers. Featuring two sparkling performances, the film marks Regan as one to watch.
Date published: September 1, 2023
Country: United Kingdom
Author: Charlotte Regan
Director(s): Charlotte Regan
Actor(s): Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun