How ‘Scrapper’ dreamed up a new east London

You’d be forgiven for not spotting where Charlotte Regan’s new film was shot. Rather than the dour tower blocks that are a staple of British indies, the north Londoner opted to try something completely different: a warm, welcoming space, splashed with colour for the occasion. The characters on this estate in Limes Farm, Chigwell, have challenges to face, of course – but they also have fun and get to enjoy life. And a lot of it has to do with their environment: an inclusive, community space that’s fast disappearing to gentrification.

Here, then, is the freshest, sharpest and quirkiest social drama to come out of the UK for years. In ‘Scrapper’, we meet Georgie (played by newcomer Lola Campbell), a mischievous but likeable young teenager, stealing bikes to pay for food, while her best friend, Ali (played by another newcomer, Alun Uzun) pretends to be her uncle when social services call. Her mum is not around. Neither is her dad, Jason (Harris Dickinson). Until one day, he suddenly turns up out of the blue. A commitment-phobic man-boy, he tries in vain to assume father duties before becoming an unlikely ally. Or so it seems.  

Photograph: Picturehouse EntertainmentJason (Harris Dickinson) and Georgie (Lola Campbell) in ‘Scrapper’

Regan, a first-time director, grew up on an estate herself – in Islington – and wanted to bring the joys of the everyday life she experienced to the screen. An unlikely, upbeat pitch for a debut feature – but it worked. A dry, witty journey of discovery, the film carries shades of Shane Meadows crossed with the offbeat charm of Taika Waititi’s ‘Boy’. ‘Scrapper’ duly won the big Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, winning over audiences and critics alike – and it’s easy to see why. Not only is there colour and joy where usually there would be greyness and despair.

Regan also found two new breakout stars in Campbell and Uzun – both non-professional young actors who clicked on set with each other and with fast-rising British talent Dickinson (‘The Triangle of Sadness’).

‘Harris is very capable of being childish to suit the kids,’ says Regan. ‘Which is the environment we kind of encourage – like Molly [Manning Walker], my cinematographer, is very childish in all the best ways, you know. So we were just like messing around, throwing water balloons at Lola [she was throwing them right back]. Alin really looked up to Harris – for his work ethic, his professionalism. They all got on great.’

Campbell and Alun Uzun on set
Photograph: Picturehouse Entertainment

Regan and her DP and best pal Walker (whose feature debut, ‘How to Have Sex’, won a prize at Cannes this year) are the first to admit that they love ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Harry Potter’ movies as much as indie arthouse fare. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, their collaboration is laced with unexpected flourishes. Among them: a series of to-camera asides from seemingly peripheral characters, some funky on-screen notes and scribbles, and best of all, a talking spider. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a layer of pathos, where we discover the real reason why Georgie is on her own. The reveal only makes her character all the more believable and resilient. Grim this is not.

 She’s a filmmaker who is unafraid to take risks. Example: tearing up the script that had been green-lit, and rewriting it from scratch during the Covid lockdown. ‘I listened to a masterclass on someone, I don’t know who, and they were like: “What should you do is, put your script in a drawer and start again a week later and anything you don’t remember doesn’t deserve to be in there.” Theo [Barrowclough, her producer] was fuming, but it’s something I live by.’

I like films that leave me feeling happier, instead of more depressed than when I went in

She also says she’s happy to let the kooky side of her imagination run wild, and have it play out for laughs, in order to make her films – gasp – more entertaining. ‘I like cinema that’s weird and I like those elements of films that leave me feeling happier or having laughed, instead of feeling more depressed than when I went in.”

Photograph: Picturehouse EntertainmentCharlotte Regan and Lola Campbell hug it out on the set of ‘Scrapper’

‘Scrapper’ duly plays out like an uplifting, authentic urban drama, tinged with charm and comedy. ‘There’s an amazing generation, particularly of female filmmakers, coming out of the UK at the moment,’ notes her ‘Scrapper’ producer, Theo Barrowclough. After Georgia Oakley’s ‘Blue Jean’, Charlotte Wells’ ‘Aftersun’, and Raine Allen Miller’s ‘Rye Lane’, he sees Regan and ‘Scrapper’ on a growing list of bright new female voices coming out of the UK. The indie scene, he says, has never felt so good. 

The key to really understanding ‘Scrapper’ and why it works so well, though, lies inside Regan’s own imagination and determination. In her head, she and Walker are always thinking of their favourite blockbuster scenes, even on their modest budgets. ‘Even when we were doing the police chase, we were like: This is basically “Bourne Ultimatum”,’ she says. ‘Theo was like, “What? It’s fucking not – they’re just running for a minute from the police.” And we were like, “This is – if you look at this Jason Bourne chase sequence, we’re fucking recreating it, Theo. That’s what we’re doing.”’

Catch the sunniest, dreamiest London film in yonks, and you’ll be hoping she does it again soon.

‘Scrapper’ is in UK and US cinemas Fri Aug 25. Read our review here.