Get us in your inbox


  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Nykiya Adams in ‘Bird’
Nykiya Adams in ‘Bird’

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Andrea Arnold distills lairy joys and teary emotion from family life on the fringes

Twelve-year-old Bailey (Nykiya Adams) is a kid adrift. She lives in a squat in Gravesend, Kent with her older brother Hunter (Jason Buda) and tattooed-to-the-eyeballs dad Bug (Barry Keoghan), a sparky man-child who defines the word ‘chaos’ with every move he makes and word he speaks. Right up the top of Bird, which unfolds over a few hazy summer days, Bug announces to Bailey that he’s going to marry his girlfriend on Saturday, a fixation that competes for his attention with a mad project to extract some hallucinogens from a toad to fund the nuptials. Elsewhere, Bailey’s mum and younger siblings are living with a lairy Liverpudlian whose every move screams ‘abuser’.

It’s close to a decade since Bird’s British writer-director Andrea Arnold made a dramatic feature for cinema. After American Honey in 2016, she dived into a whole load of TV directing work in the USA, including episodes of Big Little Lies, and made an arresting experimental doc, Cow (2021). It’s even longer since her last contemporary British story, Fish Tank (2009), which was also set in the scrappy suburban edgelands of Kent. 

That’s the territory to which Arnold returns with a bang with Bird, and you can feel and almost smell the pent-up cinema in the room – she’s got a whole load of ideas and stories to share. That energy is right there in an early scene in which two of her characters burn through a suburban shopping street on an electric scooter with music blaring out.

There are enough characters and events in Bird for a Charles Dickens novel

Appropriately for the Kentish setting, there are enough side characters and events in Bird for a Charles Dickens novel. But the presence that spins it into something more than a fast and loud Ken Loach film with blaring Fontaines DC on the soundtrack is the stranger Bailey meets in a field at dawn after running away from the mess of her family life. He’s Bird (Franz Rogowski), a spirit-like, compassionate outsider.

Given what we’ve experienced up to this point, it feels inevitable that he’s another ‘bad thing’ in Bailey’s life – but that’s not where this goes, and it’s best not to say much more, so that anyone experiences this tender, increasingly curious relationship with as little prior info as possible.

Arnold gives us a stream of marginal characters and scrappy Thames estuary locations vaguely familiar from Fish Tank and her early short films, but this time she widens the focus and throws delicacy out the window, swerving between upsetting, dark realism and something much more magical, even quasi-Biblical. 

Despite some bumps along the way, she lands a tone that balances a fearless focus on life’s tough realities with a hefty dollop of teary sentiment. Bird feels like it’s going off the rails several times during the journey, but Arnold moves us between the mess of exterior lives and more thoughtful, reflective interior moments, and crucially you know that she loves pretty much all these folk – very few people in her world are irredeemable, even if they act like idiots much of the time.

And if ever a film puts its arm round a kid and says: ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got you’, that’s Bird and Bailey. She’s a character you feel Arnold would lie on railtracks to protect – and that’s a powerful, moving instinct to share.

Bird premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Dave Calhoun
Written by
Dave Calhoun

Cast and crew

  • Director:Andrea Arnold
  • Screenwriter:Andrea Arnold
  • Cast:
    • Barry Keoghan
    • James Nelson-Joyce
    • Jasmine Jobson
    • Rhys Yates
You may also like
You may also like