This poignant and affecting feature debut from director Joe Stephenson is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on the 18th September, and if STORGY did ‘DVD’s Of The Week,’ this would have a ridiculously enormous flapping sticker stamped on it, proclaiming just that.
Certain films revolving around a person with severe learning difficulties (Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? springs to mind) can be handled with a nuanced precision that allows the viewer to become engrossed in the fluidity of the film without having to ever question the validity of the actor playing a part of a disabled person. However, it can also be cringingly mistreated (look at the emotional manipulation on display with the Sean Penn vehicle, ‘I am Sam,’ so I went into ‘Chicken,’ with hesitant scepticism.
I should never have doubted Stephenson’s direction, or the powerhouse of actors on display here.
A superb Scott Chambers plays Richard, a fifteen-year-old boy with learning difficulties who lives in a rickety caravan with his older brother, wired and destructive Polly (Morgan Watkins). Life for Richard is harsh, with the engaging, nature-loving teenager yearning for stability while frequently finding himself on the wrong side of his brother’s violent moods. He finds it easier talking to animals (both dead or alive, it doesn’t seem to affect Richard’s demeanour) and he befriends Yasmin Paige’s Annabel, whose family owns the land they live on. With its shots of natural beauty on display from the countryside and themes of class divide bubbling under the surface, I couldn’t help but feel a twang of nostalgia as Chicken nods amiably towards Ken Loach’s ‘Kes,’ with lonely Richard nattering away to his best friend and pet, a moody chicken called Fiona. But growing conflict with his brother leads to a situation that severely tests Richard’s natural optimism.
A late-in-the-third-act revelation provides an unnecessary bombshell, which somewhat underestimates the power of the preceding drama, but by then we’re already invested in the emotional journey with the three main characters, so it doesn’t feel too distracting. What makes Chicken truly triumphant and a pleasure to watch is its immersive quality and its ability to establish connections with the characters onscreen. Yasmin Paige plays the role of Annabel with a mischievous rebelliousness that originally cemented her status as someone to watch out for from Richard Ayoade’s ‘Submarine,’ but as the film develops so does her nurturing of Richard. The main star, Scott Chambers plays the role with an exquisite compassion and fragility that you can’t help but feel empathy towards, and Watkins treads the fine line between wired and violent with a sense that he feels hard done by, which you can understand by the time the credits roll.
Chicken reminded me of a play called Yen, by Anna Jordan that shares similar themes, and I wasn’t at all surprised when I discovered that Chicken was originally a play. It’s a shame that the play only ran for five days (that also starred Chambers) – but if you didn’t catch the theatrical production, you can own the DVD or Blu-Ray from Monday.
And I, for one – hope you do.
Review by Anthony Self
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