A teen maelstrom of romance, secrets and family in the Essex countryside, Joe Stephenson’s Chicken is a moving portrait of a breaking idyll.
This Is My Landby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Joe Stephenson’s Chicken quietly creeps up on you and tugs at your heartstrings. It features an astonishing central performance by Scott Chambers as Richard, an appealing 15-year-old boy with learning difficulties, with slurred speech and clumsy movements, repeating his role from Freddie Machin’s original stage play.
Eben Bolter’s lush cinematography revels in the beautiful Essex countryside, where Richard lives in an ugly derelict caravan – a blot on the landscape – with his destructive and violent older brother Polly (Morgan Watkins), who ekes a resentful living in the local scrapyard. Richard is full of tenderness, caring for his only friend, a chicken he calls Fiona, and painstakingly preparing meagre meals for his brutal, uncaring brother. Every morning he optimistically prepares breakfast and wakes him up from his drunken stupor, only to get yelled at. He waits patiently for him to come back from the pub at night when all his money has been spent.
When the new owners of the land that the brothers are squatting on arrive to live in the mansion house, Richard accidentally meets Annabell (Yasmin Paige), their spoilt-brat teenage daughter. An unlikely friendship grows between them as Annabell starts to find unexpected compassion for the vulnerable boy, and Richard shows Annabell how to appreciate the countryside and simple things. But with the coming of new owners, Richard and Polly’s precarious security is threatened. Polly prepares to leave and in a powerful scene reveals family secrets that tear the two apart. And it is left to Annabell to take responsibility and care for the innocent Richard.
It’s an impressive feature debut for both the director and lead actor, which has merited the endorsement of Stephen Frears and Sir Ian McKellen. Stephenson’s next project is a Noel Coward biopic.
Chicken is now showing at the Cannes Film Festival