This impressive debut feature film from writer-director Joe Stephenson follows a 15-year-old boy named Richard who suffers from learning difficulties and lives a troubled life with his beloved but erratic and abusive older brother “Polly” in a rundown old caravan on someone else’s countryside property. With his brother too busy either working or drinking to really spend much quality time with him, Richard creates his own little world including talking to his chicken and only friend Fiona.
One day he meets and falls for a 17-year-old girl named Annabel (Submarine’s Yasmin Paige), the daughter of the family threatening to evict Richard and his brother from their land. As the friendship between Richard and Annabel grows, his family bonds become stretched to breaking point as dark secrets and devastating future possibilities are revealed.
Chicken is the type of gentle yet powerful film that British cinema does best, exploring a low key and initially uneventful plot that has the power to erupt into potent moments of raw emotion that offset the quieter moments. Its sensitive handling of its characters means their stories and individual plights – whether it’s Richard feeding his beloved chicken or Polly trying desperately to find work – never feel rushed, glossed over or like they’re mawkishly wrung out for false emotion. It’s a film that feels real and hits home with emotion.
The drama is anchored by a terrific performance by relative newcomer Scott Chambers (U Want Me 2 Kill Him?), playing the troubled but utterly loveable Richard with a sensitive naivety and quiet pathos. It’s a pleasure to be in his company and heart-breaking whenever he is mistreated or the complex world around him gets too much for him to bear. Paige is a joy as Annabel, exuding charm and likeability but also an emotional complexity that comes into play once she becomes irresistibly invested in Richard’s life. Then there’s Morgan Watkins, the rising star who continues to make his rising mark on British cinema following the likes of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Wild Bill, bringing a believability and an empathy to a potential very unlikeable character.
This is a small film that packs a big emotional punch, deceptive in its initial simplicity but full of relatable humanistic and emotive details that elevate it above its obvious budgetary restrictions. In a modern world overrun by superheroes and disaster blockbusters, it’s always nice to see a small scale, intimate character drama like this that has the power to make an impact. It marks Stephenson out as a major new British talent to watch.