Scrapper Is a Whimsical Take on British Realism
A stark reality is filtered through the whimsical eyes of a precocious child in Charlotte Regan’s stunning, pastel-coloured debut.
Sundance 2023: Scrapper Review
Of all the cinematic terms, genres, and periods that have come to be associated with British cinema, social realism has undeniably made the greatest mark. Catapulting the nation’s output to continued international esteem and cementing the now-storied careers of auteurs like Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, and Andrea Arnold. From the “kitchen sink” dramas of the early sixties to more contemporary accounts, these subtle, relatable portraits of the working-class British experience have explored race, class, and sexuality with bracing frankness, becoming filmic embodiments of the word “gritty” — manifesting as powerful social protests in themselves.
Charlotte Regan’s stunning feature debut, Scrapper, continues that cinematic tradition but through an observant, pastel-coloured lens that revels in a newfound arena of “quirky lyricism”. The stark social realities of life in government housing are made both deeply moving and utterly fantastical, with childhood whimsy taking centre stage, imbuing a fresh dynamism that is equal parts intimate and riotous.
The film opens with the famous, cliched statement “it takes a village to raise a child” being shamelessly crossed out and replaced with “I CAN RAISE MYSELF THANKS”. Penned by the precocious Georgie (Lola Campbell, in one of the most nuanced, lived-in child performances ever) who lives on her own having recently lost her mother, she handles typical household duties, steals bikes with her best friend, Ali (Alin Uzun), and slyly fools social services into believing she resides with her uncle (who she amusingly names Winston Churchill).
She lives on a razor’s edge, thrust into adulthood, caught in the doldrums of enveloping grief and self-preservation. Yet, it doesn’t stop her from shrouding her insulated existence with fantasy, concocting a world of marvelous creations and sights— featuring talking spiders, mockumentary confessionals, and hilariously endearing cutaway gags. Each of these wildly disparate ideas flow in parallel, crossing streams at just the right moment, complementing what came before and giving force to the next enchanting sequence. The sheer diversity of visual styles is mesmerizingly married, bringing forth an inventive charm that retains both relatability and artfulness.
It’s also in these early moments where Campbell asserts herself as a pure wonder, instilling in Georgie a natural wisdom and confidence beyond her years, while still capturing the fear of uncertainty that wracks her, as she struggles to navigate a pitiless world all on her own. Yet, a stranger suddenly (and quite literally) plunks into her life—her father, Jason (Harris Dickinson, radiating a palpable charisma and sincerity). Absent her entire life and armed with bleached-blond hair (reminiscent of Eminem’s iconic look in 8 Mile), Georgie questions and brazenly dodges Jason’s sudden interest in her life, All the while Jason struggles to fully understand her.
The duo’s developing dynamic dominates the latter majority of Scrapper— a choice that pays off wondrously, with their turbulent relationship doubling as a dazzling manifestation of Regan’s steady push-pull between gritty realism and juvenile eccentricity. From their heated exchanges to their fragmented attempts to understand each other to the charming trips they take to the overgrown, abandoned parts of town, the two begin to learn from each other. Forging a relationship that will slowly, but surely, endure despite how messy it gets. It truly becomes a struggle to say goodbye, especially given the film’s brisk 80-minute runtime and the weirdly comforting world it cements.
Shot with the tenderest of touches while still sporting its own distinct aesthetic energy, Regan along with cinematographer, Molly Manning Walker, craft compositions that cascade and swirl through the alcoves and unkempt fields of the community— whipping through each plot beat with unadulterated spirit and flourish. Littered with sweeping wides and measured zooms, each richly textured frame is cognizant of the stifling quality of such environments, and the staggering imagination people like Georgie and Jason feed off to simply get through the day.
Scrapper’s energetically somber slice of British life ironically graced Sundance only a couple of weeks after Prince Harry’s hysterically awkward memoir, “Spare”, released. Its encapsulation of the complexities that define a condensed childhood and premature parenthood magically showcases the true, non-royal experiences that define English life. Though Regan’s debut is destined to make little impression with U.S. and UK audiences, it’s an effort worth nurturing and raising into the purview of moviegoers. It’s not only an assured debut from an exciting new voice but arguably the best film at Sundance this year.
“Scrapper” was awarded the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival takes place from January 19th to 29th. Find all our coverage here.
– Prabhjot Bains