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CHICKEN Film review
Directed By Joe Stephenson
After its premiere at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, director Joe Stephenson’s debut feature, CHICKEN, finally finds its way onto cinema screens south of the border this week. Good things, as they say, are worth waiting for.
In rural East Anglia, Richard (Scott Chambers) lives with older brother, Polly (Morgan Watkins) in a run-down caravan. The teenager has learning difficulties, but an optimistic view of the world and a chicken as his best friend. Polly, on the other hand, is permanently angry at the world, drifting from one casual job to another and is full of resentment about looking after his brother. Richard unexpectedly finds a friend in landowner’s daughter Annabell (Yasmin Paige), while at the same time Polly finds a job with a circus and decides it’s time for him to strike out on his own. But where does that leave Richard?
Based on Freddie Machin’s play of the same name, which opened at the Southwark Playhouse in 2011, the film version betrays little of its stage origins. It’s not hemmed in by interior scenes and has been expanded successfully into the nearby fairytale forest or the fields outside the caravan where the coop for Fiona, the chicken of the title, has been set up. There’s much we don’t know about the brothers’ backstory, however: how they ended up in a caravan, how Richard acquired Fiona. But, over time, we learn more about their family life and this is at the core of the shattering climax.
You might just hear a whisper of Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men in the set-up, and that’s because it’s most definitely there, this time transferred to the English countryside. The contrast between the setting and lives of the two brothers is stark. The landscape is beautiful, lyrically photographed by Eben Bolter in a clean, unfussy style, while Richard and Polly are permanently short of money, their caravan is filthy and Richard has to wash himself in the stream. Those echoes continue with the younger brother’s learning difficulties and Polly being something of a chancer. But here Polly is a deeply unlikeable character and there’s no tragic murder. Plus this is a film that isn’t afraid to confront difficult issues head-on.
As such, it packs a hefty emotional punch. The scenes between the two brothers are powerful, growing in intensity as Polly becomes increasingly consumed by frustration, anger and alcohol. Nobody would deny that it’s hard looking after the well-intentioned Richard who tries hard but finds every single day a challenge, but Polly’s behaviour towards him is shocking at times and genuinely distressing. Richard gets all our sympathy with his innocence, optimism and the underlying suggestion that, given the right encouragement, he could have a better life than the one he has now. Scott Chambers’ performance is simply heartbreaking, full of an irresistible and refreshing honesty, and there’s real chemistry in the scenes between him and Watkins, while those with Yasmin Paige have a lighter tone.
CHICKEN is a remarkably assured and powerful first feature. It may get off to a slightly slow start, but stick with it because it’s not long before you’re drawn into Richard’s offbeat world of trophy animals, dubious cooking and, of course, Fiona the chicken. It also introduces us to two new talents to watch out for. Joe Stephenson behind the camera and Scott Chambers in front of it. Both have more than what it takes.
CHICKEN is in avaiable on VOD from Friday 12 August 2016.
Watch CHICKEN at www.wearecolony.com/chicken
Read the Britflicks interview with Scott Chambers and Joe Stephenson here.
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