The whimsical comedy-drama that has won hearts around the world
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Charlotte Regan is making yoghurt.
The young English director, who made her name when debut film Scrapper won the world cinema dramatic film competition at Sundance this year, is managing her blood sugar during a morning Zoom interview from her kitchen near London.
Best friends Georgie and Ali, played by Lola Campbell and Alin Uzun, in Scrapper.Credit: Madman
“Sorry,” she says in a thick north London accent. “I’ve got, like, diabetic shakes so I’m quickly making some yoghurt so I don’t pass out.”
It’s the kind of quirky honesty that Scrapper is full of. The whimsical comic drama is about a plucky and resourceful 12-year-old girl, Georgie (played by first-time actor Lola Campbell) who lives alone in a flat after her mother’s death. She watches TV with best friend Ali (Alin Uzun) in a baggy West Ham football shirt, steals bikes for food money and cleverly cons social workers that she is being looked after by an uncle named Winston Churchill.
But everything changes when a 30-year-old man with a sketchy past and a bad Eminem hairstyle, Jason (Harris Dickinson, looking unrecognisable from playing a male model in Triangle of Sadness), turns up and says he’s her dad and wants to stick around.
Scrapper’s setting in a rough area of London has drawn comparisons with other English working-class films. But it’s much more upbeat – with magical realist touches – than the tough films of Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold and Mike Leigh.
Regan, who grew up in Islington in inner London with her mother and grandmother, came to filmmaking by shooting music videos for local rappers from the age of 15.
“All my friends were grime rappers or drill rappers at the time and they lived locally to my nan,” she says. “I wasn’t cool enough to rap so they got me a camera and got me to start filming their videos. So I got into that for about six or seven years.”
These music videos taught her to be adaptable.
“You’re like the weird arty kid that’s gone off and made a film”: Scrapper writer-director Charlotte Regan.Credit: Corey Nickols/Getty Images
“You can have ideas but whether or not the rappers want to do them is a different story,” she says. “So you have to roll with the chaos and learn how to edit off the bad footage that I’d got.
“I often get asked what it was like directing Harris Dickinson, but after telling 50 rappers on a rooftop what to do as a 15-year-old girl, Harris is the easiest of all the tasks.”
While Regan is reluctant to talk much about her nan and parents, she says her childhood was nothing like Georgie’s in Scrapper, except for a similar joy in the council estate community.
“Lola who plays Georgie, and Georgie, are much cooler than me,” she says. “It’s not like a cheeky biopic or anything like that – it’s incredibly fictional.
“It’s more just the joy of those kids’ outlooks and I was drawn to how kids grieve, because I was grieving my dad and my nan [who both died before Regan made the film].
“I just found I was connecting more with how we help children deal with grief and how present they are emotionally.”
Scrapper turns on the bolshy charisma of Campbell, who was discovered in a street casting session.
“It was during COVID so Lola sent in a tape talking about her favourite discount store, just going on and on about it for ages,” Regan says. “I instantly said to Theo [Barrowclough], my producer, ‘it’s the Home Bargains girl’, which is the shop she was talking about, ‘and we can’t make the film without her’.
“But then she came in for an audition and wouldn’t look us in the eye and was super nervous, in [the way that] that TikTok generation can perform in front of a camera, but put them into a room and it floors them.
“So we started going to her house every week, having cups of tea for months, until she deemed us worthy of her friendship. She’s very mature in that regard … much more of an adult than me.”
Regan, 29, is part of a rising generation of young British women directors that includes Charlotte Wells (Aftersun) and two close friends, Georgia Oakley (Blue Jean) and Molly Manning Walker (How To Have Sex).
“It’s not like a cheeky biopic or anything like that”: Harris Dickinson and Lola Campbell in Scrapper.Credit: Madman
“Just being surrounded by so many of us making the same thing at the same time is, like, such a help,” Regan says. “It does feel like a great time for British cinema, definitely.”
But even after her Sundance success and working as one of three directors on the coming Apple TV series The Buccaneers, an adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel about rich American girls trying to find aristocratic English husbands in the 1870s, Regan considers herself very much an outsider in film and TV.
“I don’t have any family or friends who worked in film,” she says. “[It’s been] very alarming sitting in rooms with groups of the poshest people I’ve ever met in my life. Well, I guess that’s the film industry. But I’ve found people along the way.”
Her supporters have included English directors Ben Wheatley (Meg 2: The Trench) – “god knows why, I’ve never done anything for him” – and Edgar Wright (Baby Driver).
Regan is still so new to the film biz that she is thrown by a question about how she came up with the idea for Scrapper.
“It’s weird,” she says. “I wish I could come up with an arty answer to this because it is a regular. I still just never know the answer.
“I’d always been a bit sad watching that English working-class British cinema and how, like, depressing it always was and how defined people were by their hardships and their trauma.
“So I’d always wanted to make a working-class film that was allowed to be joyful. But beyond that, I honestly can’t remember a thing because we’ve changed it so much.”
Regan says Scrapper was originally about a teenage boy and his grandmother who go on the run from drug dealers.
“It was much more of a Guy Ritchie shoot-out kind of film,” she says. “So while this has always been my first film, it’s changed draft to draft.”
Regan is finding the same thing with two films she’s been writing. “One day they’re savage horrors, the next they’re fantasies,” she says. “I’m terrible for changing my mind.”
But what’s been constant lately is that Regan remains unsure where she fits in.
Scrapper star Lola Campbell, who was cast after sending in a video talking about her favourite discount store. Credit: Madman
“You don’t feel part of the film world and you don’t feel like you totally belong with all the middle-class friends you’ve made,” she says. “But you also don’t quite feel like you belong where you came from any more either, because you’re like the weird arty kid that’s gone off and made a film.
“It’s a constant identity crisis that I have every time I go to a family wedding and every time I sit in a middle-class meeting.”
The weird arty kid still gets calls from her rapper friends asking if she can shoot a music video.
“On average it used to be like once a week, but now it’s every three or four months I get a random phone call,” Regan says. “It’s great. I still sometimes delve back into them because they’re very fun creatively. There’s lots of freedom.”
Scrapper opens in cinemas on September 14.
Email Garry Maddox at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @gmaddox.
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