It feels serendipitous that Scrapper, a somber slice-of-life British melodrama, screened at the Sundance Film Festival just days after hysterical reporting on Prince Harry’s book, Spare, and the announcement of King Charles’ coronation plans. Finding it a bit hard to sympathize and identify with––or care about––the ongoing drama surrounding the U.K.’s Royal Family? You can bet the characters in Scrapper wouldn’t care less, either. Audience members watching Charlotte Regan’s film will, however, care deeply about 12-year-old Georgie and her existence on the outskirts of London.

Scrapper is a remarkably assured first feature for director Charlotte Regan, who follows a string of acclaimed shorts and music videos. While its working-class milieu calls to mind noteworthy British dramas like Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank and Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava, Scrapper has a different feel. There is more humor, for starters––some of it derived from its protagonist, a plucky tween adjusting to life on her own. Scrapper does not resonate as strongly as those British gems. It is worth noting, though, that Fish Tank followed Arnold’s masterful Red Road and Ali & Ava was Barnard’s fourth feature. Scrapper is a fine debut, but it is likely that forthcoming efforts will be even stronger.

As the film opens, the cliched statement “It takes a village to raise a child” appears before being crossed out and cheekily replaced with “I CAN RAISE MYSELF THANKS.” These are fitting words coming from Georgie, played in her film debut by young Lola Campbell. Our first glimpse of her is from behind, vacuuming; it is only when she turns around that we realize this is a child. In these early moments Georgie is handling typical household duties, clearly alone. We quickly learn that her mother has passed away. Social services and neighbors believe Georgie’s uncle is living with her now.

Alas, there is no uncle; Georgie records the voice of a convenience store clerk and provides the phantom’s name (Winston Churchill) to social services. The only actual visit to her home is her friend Ali (Alin Uzun), a confidante who also serves as a lookout when Georgie steals bicycles. She’s clearly a grade-A bullshitter. (Georgie, to the bike shop owner interested in buying the stolen bikes: “With the Tour de France coming up, all the kids want a bike.”) Campbell is a wonder, especially in these early scenes. Georgie comes across as wise beyond her years and dedicated to self-preservation––confident but ever-so-slightly gripped with fear of navigating the world on her own.

Without warning, a stranger soon drops (quite literally) into her life. This is her father, Jason, played by rising star Harris Dickinson. With his bleached-blond hair (“What is that hair? He thinks he’s in 8 Mile”) and years of absenteeism, Jason seems a bit dodgy. Georgie doubts his motives and his sincerity, while Jason struggles to understand a 12-year-old still wracked with grief. The duo’s developing relationship dominates the remainder of Scrapper––a wise choice. Georgie has reasonable questions, e.g. “How come you didn’t want to know me 12 years ago?” And Jason has reasonable answers. Perhaps too reasonable, actually. The character is almost too likable and sincere, and a bit higher self-doubt might have been more compelling.

Scrapper‘s conclusion is sweet, subtle, and predictable. Indeed, it is the predictability of Regan’s screenplay that keeps the film from greatness. What makes it still qualify as a success is the director’s deep understanding of the realities of living in poverty (the loss of Georgie’s phone is treated, appropriately, as a catastrophic life event) and the performances of Campbell, Dickinson, and Uzun.

Scrapper is perhaps far too understated to make real waves stateside; or in the U.K., for that matter. Yet subtlety is an asset. If Regan’s film is not very memorable, it’s also, without question, wholly believable. She captures the complexities of an abbreviated childhood and early parenthood with real insight, and with Georgie has created a delightful protagonist. Skip Prince Harry’s book, then, but do not ignore Scrapper.

Scrapper premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Grade: B-

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