Georgie (Lola Campbell), the motormouthed hero of Charlotte Regan’s feature debut, Scrapper, is one of those kids that really flummoxes the adult brain. She’s cute as a button, but speaks with the conspiratorial confidence of a used car salesman. She steals bikes with her best friend and accomplice, Ali (Alin Uzun), and has somehow convinced social services that, since her mother’s death, she’s been under the guardianship of her extremely busy and uncommunicative uncle, “Winston Churchill”. Of course, she’s really on her own. Georgie doesn’t need adult supervision, thank you very much. She can take care of herself.
She’s a pint-sized huckster who’s going nowhere and yet is somehow still on the run. And it’s that electric presence – as written by Regan and enthusiastically performed by Campbell – that transforms Scrapper into a joyous, boisterous debut. There’s something in here that was made to be championed. It’s a candy-coloured reflection of Regan’s own memories of growing up working class in London, and offers a specific brand of escapism that can only come from the immediacy and innocence of a child’s POV. It’s confrontational when it comes to matters of loss and abandonment, but also shields us from the knowledge that those wounds may heal, but not without leaving behind scars.
Georgie’s father, Jason (Harris Dickinson), returns suddenly from Ibiza, where he’s been working as a club promoter. She’s never met him before. And he’s certainly not ready to be a dad. But he and Georgie do discover that they at least share a pathological attachment to their own independence. Georgie runs her house like a factory: she habitually crosses off each stage of grief from a list that’s been pinned to the fridge and lines up each mug in the kitchen in order of symbolic importance.
But she also spends her days spinning wild tales about the spiders who’ve taken up residence in the living room, and her initial suspicions about Jason have less to do with his qualifications as a father, and more with her concerns that he might be a secret vampire, ex-convict, or well-connected gangster. Regan lets him shapeshift through these possible identities as Georgie and Ali watch him from across the café, whispering feverishly to each other.
The director, working with cinematographer Molly Manning Walker (whose own directorial debut, How to Have Sex, is out later this year), has taken a deeply empathetic approach to this story of a fractured family. We’re firmly in Georgie’s world, so the camera sprints down alleyways and leaps between frames and thoughts. The coordinated bursts of pastel turn her neighbourhood into a living dolls’ house and, occasionally, there are sitcom-style, straight-to-camera contributions from her schoolmates and teachers (all equally colourful apart from the monochrome realm of social services).
Dickinson, already a stand-out in last year’s Triangle of Sadness, finds a quiet, guilty ache within Jason, and you can see something break inside of him when Georgie finally asks: “How come you didn’t want to know me 12 years ago?” But, really, isn’t that a fair accusation? Who wouldn’t want a kid like Georgie around? Scrapper is a solar system of a film, with Campbell’s playful and defiant Georgie shining bright at its centre. You’ll not find many characters this year quite as likeable.
Dir: Charlotte Regan. Starring: Harris Dickinson, Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun. 12, 84 minutes.
‘Scrapper’ is in cinemas from 25 August