This weeks Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club showing was a British Prison drama with the tag line ‘we are all different on the inside’. Prison is how society attempts to deter violence: the prospect of being locked up behind a big wall is supposed to be the cure-all. But what deters the violence of people already in prison with little or no hope of release for a very long time and share space with fellow inmates that could possible have worse anger management problems than there own? Or are these men actually in a prison of their own making?
We have recently seen various films on this subject including the gripping Danish prison-drama ‘R’ (2010), the French A Prophet (2009) If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle (2010) a Rumanian film about a young offenders institution or Steve McQueen’s directorial debut film Hunger (2008) which dramatized the events in the Maze Prison, 6 weeks prior to Bobby Sands death and the violence that surrounded that incident. But the film that cast’s the longest shadow over the British prison genre is probable Alan Clarke’s Scum banned by the BBC in 1977 and two years later Clark remade it as a feature film. And of course under the British New Wave banner we had Tony Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), which covered such subjects as class-consciousness and the incarceration of rebellious youth.
Starred Up is a 2013 British ‘family drama’ set inside a prison, which gives you that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach from the very start. The title is a term used to describe the early transfer of a criminal from a Young Offender’s Institution to an adult prison. 19-year-old Eric Love is transferred into an adult prison two years early after proving too violent for a young offenders' institution. A potentially explosive situation is not made easier by the fact that one of the top dog’s in Eric's new digs is also the man he holds to blame for his violent tendencies. Interestingly the screenplay for this film has been written by a psychotherapist, Jonathan Asser and is based on his experiences working as a voluntary therapist at HM Prison Wandsworth, with some of the country’s most violent criminals all of which had anger management problems.
24-year-old Jack O'Connell stars as Eric. An actor that served his apprenticeship in such films as This is England his debut film in 2006, Eden Lake (2008) Harry Brown (2009) and recently in The Liability (2012) and Tower Block (2012). Neville Love, Eric’s father, is played by Australian born actor Ben Mendelsohn, who you may know from Australia (2008) Beautiful Kate (2009) Animal Kingdom (2010) Killer Elite (2011) Trespass (2011) Killing Them Softly (2012) The Place Beyond the Pines (2012). The prison’s voluntary therapist, a surrogate Jonathan Asser, is portrayed with some panache by Rupert Friend the English born actor who is best known for his role in the American TV series Homeland where he plays the character Peter Quinn.
Directed by David Mackenzie who is probable best known for Young Adam (2003) a movie set in Scotland and staring Ewan McGregor, Emily Mortimer, Peter Mullan and Tilda Swinton - a film about sex, death and barges. His latest movie was based, but not set, in Northern Ireland in two former prisons HM Prison Crumlin Road in Belfast and HM Prison Maze in Lisburn. The budget was around 2 million and it took 24 days to shoot the film. So far it has won the following awards: The British Independent Film Awards for Ben Mendelsohn Best Supporting Actor, the Dublin International Film Festival gave Jack O’Connell Best Actor and the London Film Awards recognised Jonathan Asser for Best British Newcomer.
The film has been well received by the critics and the description’s I particularly agreed with were “Intense, visceral and immersive” . ‘Jack O’Connell is dangerously riveting, scary, tragic, explosive an actor you can’t take your eyes off’ . And I would add that O’Connell is blossoming into a first class actor and that the director certainly impresses with his feel for realism and successfully shocks his audience with the unflinching brutality of prison life. Ken Loach asked recently if the best films have a significance beyond there own narrative I would say in the case of this movie that the answer would have to be yes.
The discussion following the screening centered on whether our young protagonist would ever become ‘rehabilitated’ the audience seemed pretty much split down the middle over this question. The prison system in general was discussed and also how in Scotland the crime level has been reduced in all but violent acts and sex crimes! The question was raised about the authenticity of the movie, most agreed that it felt genuine but had some trepidation about the ‘hanging’ scene. Our audience all agreed that Mackenzie and his cast and crew were all to be commended on producing a very tough and accomplished film.