Why ‘Scrapper’ isn’t just a grey tale of working-class Britain
Charlotte Regan’s debut film about a girl on a London estate perfectly balances cynicism and idealism with themes of grief, humour and hope, says Hanna Flint
Saturday 19 August 2023 By Hanna Flint
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but not according to 12-year-old Georgie in Charlotte Regan’s excellent debut film, Scrapper. ‘I can raise myself thanks’ is scrawled across the screen at the opening of the British dramedy about a young girl fending for herself after the recent death of her mother. Refreshingly, there’s far too much whimsy and wit for this tale to be overwhelmed by woe. That’s both down to the sensational performances at the heart of this gorgeous film and the magical filter through which Regan channels her brand of kitchen-sink realism.
From the moment the camera lingers on the line of pastel-coloured council houses where Georgie lives, it’s clear Scrapper is not going to be your typically grey tale of working-class Britain. In fact, the rare time that shade is seen is while depicting her inept social workers during playful vignettes of people in the periphery of Georgie’s life. From a bubble-gum girl squad and a trio of yellow-inflected triplets to a stolen bike racketeer and an unsympathetic school teacher, there’s not really a kind word to be shared about Georgie. She’s blunt, rude, impatient and crafty. She’s a self-sufficient bike thief who spends most of the film trying to be unlikeable – and she’s all the more likeable for it.
We’re introduced to Georgie in a well-worn 1990s West Ham shirt as she cleans up her house, making sure everything looks exactly the way it did when her mother was alive. Then she’s off out to play with her best mate Ali who lives nearby on the estate. ‘Play out’ means stealing bikes, and they’re pretty good at it thanks to Georgie’s bag of tools and her Del Boy-esque gift of the gab. She uses the money she earns from this illicit profession to pay rent, buy household supplies and keep up the pretense that she’s actually being looked after by an uncle called Winston Churchill.
Her resourcefulness is on a par with Kevin from Home Alone. In one clever scene, Georgie plays various pre-recorded lines that she got the corner shop owner to record, in response to her social worker carrying out a phone check-in. However, as cunningly as Georgie navigates the adult world, she’s still looking at it through childlike eyes. This is where the magical realism in Regan’s script and Molly Manning Walker’s cinematography transport the viewer into her imagination. From playful cutaways to talking spiders living in Georgie’s house and anxious moments, like when she loses her phone, enhanced by feverish camerawork and frenetic cuts, her self-assuredness is still just a wall she’s built to prove to herself and the people around her that she’s dealing with her grief.
Georgie is as convincing a performer as the young actor who plays her. It’s hard to believe that Lola Campbell made her screen debut here after being street cast for the scrappy lead role. But maybe that’s why there is a rawness, an unvarnished quality to her performance that makes Georgie such a mesmerising character to follow around for 84 minutes. Not since Dakota Fanning in 2003’s Uptown Girls have I seen such devastating precociousness in action. It’s a testament to Regan’s direction that she was able to wrangle it in a film that is less about plot and more about two people getting to know each other.
When Georgie’s biological father Jason (Harris Dickinson) turns up, a spanner is thrown in the works. He’s been absent throughout her life, shooing responsibility by playing the ‘we were too young to have a kid’ card, and has spent most of his time enjoying sun, sand and laughs in Ibiza. Now he’s back and wants to make amends, but Georgie isn’t as persuaded as her earnest mate Ali. She’s had to grow up too quickly and he’s not grown up fast enough.
The evolving dynamic between Campbell and Dickinson is expertly handled and their knack for improvisation ensures every interaction feels natural. Campbell says as much with a scowl as she does with a litany of candid reprimands and commands towards this would-be father figure, and Dickinson is an excellent receptacle for such impertinent behaviour. There’s a deep sensitivity to his portrayal of a thirty-something lad attempting to do his fatherly duty, but filled with so much shame, guilt and insecurity that he’s worried if he really tries he might just fail. But isn’t that just life? Trying and failing, and trying all over again.
Scrapper shows us just that. It’s a sassy debut that balances cynicism and idealism through two brilliant central performances, with Regan anchoring the weighty themes of grief, abandonment and social disillusionment with honesty, humour, and hope.
‘Scrapper’ will be screening across our UK Houses for members from Saturday 26 August. We’re also hosting a live Q&A with filmmaker Charlotte Regan at Soho House 76 Dean Street on Wednesday 30 August – visit the events page for more information and bookings.