“I can raise myself,” declares 12-year-old Georgie early on in Scrapper, Charlotte Regan’s debut feature. Regan was named one of the Stars of Tomorrow in 2020 by Screen International, and the filmmaker proves herself more than worthy of the title with her first film.
Scrapper is opening Sundance Film Festival London and it’s exactly the type of picture that would come out of such a festival; like its name, this is a scrappy, fiercely independent and singular film. Regan has previously spoken about wanting to bring forth a different type of working-class story and Scrapper certainly does that.
But back to Georgie (Lola Campbell, incredible). Georgie has been left to her own devices since the death of her single mother to an unnamed illness. She has successfully fooled all the adults in her life to believe she has an uncle called Winston Churchill who cares for her, when in fact Georgie lives alone and steals bikes to sell.
One day, Jason (Harris Dickinson) climbs over Georgie’s fence and introduces himself as her dad, who has returned from a life as a frat boy in Ibiza. Georgie is understandably wary of the stranger, but having an adult around proves useful – and not just for reaching the top shelf. Jason is immature and foolish, but the two get on like a house on fire.
Scrapper toes the line between a full-blown kitchen sink drama and a more whimsical take on childhood. While Regan’s film is deeply rooted in grief, Scrapper never succumbs to misery porn about poor people. Instead, she focuses on the joy of being a child, playing with your friends and seeing all the good around you. It’s potent stuff, really.
Regan cast Campbell after seeing her audition tape in which the young actress spoke only of her love for Home Bargains. Campbell’s performance here is nothing short of remarkable; much like her audition tape, her performance is unpretentious and unfussy. Whether it’s skill or just natural talent, Campbell effortlessly navigates Georgie’s complex emotions on-screen without ever turning her performance into an internalised one.
Dickinson, whose career has really taken off in the last few years, provides excellent support for Campbell. The two craft a very believable dynamic on screen, as Dickinson is especially electric and seems to constantly challenge Campbell with his cheeky, relaxed performance.
Scrapper occasionally gives in to predictable narrative beats, but the playful, unique tone elevates Regan’s film. There’s almost an elasticity to it; the film bends and breaks conventional cinematic storytelling and much of it comes from putting us in Georgie’s shoes. Stylistically, Scrapper is ever-changing, and all the better for it.
The film’s lean runtime of just 87 minutes can work against Scrapper. The loose plot steadily moves forward, but there’s not a lot of time to really dig into the film’s themes. While it’s clearly intentional, we’re not given a whole lot of information about what happened with Georgie’s mother, nor do we really get to know Jason.
It can prove frustrating, and there’s a distinct feel that there was more to Scrapper’s story than what Regan has chosen to show us. Regardless, this is a confident, joyful debut from the director, who announces herself as a new big voice in British cinema.
Scrapper is screening at Sundance Film Festival London now and is released in UK and Irish cinemas 25 August.