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Scrapper ★★★★
(PG) 84 minutes

Twelve-year-old Georgie is doing her best to impersonate an adult.

Her mother is dead, and with the reluctant co-operation of the local storekeeper, she’s hoodwinked the dozy social workers on her case into believing she’s living with an uncle.

Scrapper tells the story of 12-year-old Georgie, who is surving on her own.Credit: Madmen

The storekeeper has been persuaded to record voice messages reporting to social welfare on her progress. As for food and rent, Georgie takes care of those items with money she makes from nicking bicycles and selling them.

It’s a highly implausible scenario but, using a touch of absurdism, British writer-director Charlotte Regan pulls it off. With this sunlit film, she’s not making the usual gritty example of working-class naturalism we expect from the British.

You could call it whimsical, except that the word implies something airy and fey, and Georgie hasn’t a trace of those qualities. She’s all business – a diligent housekeeper with an expert understanding of cleaning products and their properties and thorough knowledge of her neighbourhood and how it works. For entertainment, she has her playmate, Ali (Alin Uzun), who helps her with the bicycles, and all is well except for her unexpressed yearning for her mother. Whenever sadness takes over she retreats into her imagination, creating fantasies which are playfully realised on screen in a spirit which make her seem more resilient than ever.

In Scrapper, protagonist Georgie regularly disappears into her own imagination.Credit: Madmen

Lola Campbell, who plays Georgie, had never acted before, which may help explain the stream of buoyant chat that sets the flowing rhythms of Georgie’s day. She’s bossy, beguiling and so intent on taking care of herself that there are times when she could be a houseproud 60-year-old in the body of a sprite. Nothing she says seems scripted – and some of it isn’t. Regan has spoken of her young star as a talented improviser.

In coming up with her story, Regan drew on her own childhood with her mother and grandmother on a north London housing estate, a period she remembers with great affection. The estate, she says, had none of the soulless aspects we know so well from other films with the same setting. She saw it as one big playground – a safe place where the kids and their games were watched over by a gallery of elderly tea-drinkers sitting on their balconies.

Georgie, too, is closely observed – by a few censorious neighbours and by a posse of pampered, mean girls who voice their dislike of her in comically exaggerated scenes played direct to camera.

Nothing fazes her, however, until the unheralded arrival of Jason (Harris Dickinson), who climbs over the fence one morning and knocks on the door to announce that he’s her father.

Harris Dickinson plays Jason and Lola Campbell is Georgie in Scrapper, a hit on the festival circuit.Credit: Madman

He doesn’t exactly look the part. With his bleached blonde hair and backpack full of activewear in assorted colours, he could be a delinquent older brother, yet he soon makes it clear that he’s come to stay – much to Georgie’s chagrin.

In other hands, the film’s pace and tone could tip over into melodrama at this point, but Jason does little to change Georgie’s routines. Apart from his cack-handed attempt to help with the cycle-stealing racket and his equally unsuccessful efforts in the kitchen, he takes his cues from Georgie herself.

And after she finally accepts him as a new playmate, the action rolls along on the rising tide of their growing rapport. She starts to find comfort in his memories of her mother and their youthful affair.

The film has been a hit on the festival circuit, winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for reasons which are very easy to comprehend. It’s a charmer – with a unique voice and a completely fresh approach to that old reliable, the coming-of-age story. After all, the character who finally achieves maturity is not the child but her father.

Scrapper is in cinemas from September 14.

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