One week, two British prison movies, one good and one bad....
Along with The Selfish Giant, Starred Up is easily one of the best new films I've seen recently.
A worthy attempt at gritty realism from writer Jonathan Asser (based on his own experiences of leading classes into anger management with offenders) and director David Mackenzie in the Alan Clarke mould, comparisons to Scum are perhaps inevitable but it would do Starred Up a slight disservice to speak of it too much in the same breath, solely because it's the best British prison film since that illustrious predecessor. Both Asser and Mackenzie claim they want the viewer to experience life in gaol for themselves watching this and I can safely say - with its uncompromising nature, both in terms of the depiction of violence and the squalid banality as well as the almost impenetrable slang - they've succeeded in many respects. As someone who has worked in support groups in places like HMP Strangeways, Starred Up certainly felt real to me.
Stunning dedicated and passionate performances principally from the lead Jack O'Connell as 19 year old Eric, 'starred up' to adult prison (moved prematurely because his violent personality can no longer be controlled or contained in a YOP) immerse the viewer well, but he's ably supported by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn as Nev, Eric's estranged father who runs the wing and, perhaps most surprisingly, costume drama favourite Rupert Friend as the fearless and idealistic former public schoolboy therapist Oliver - each offering a measure of paternal support in some way to the not quite lost Eric before it is too late.
Serves me right for wanting to check out another British prison movie after the brilliant Starred Up earlier this week.
Why oh why didn't I just watch that again? Or Scum? Or Bronson? Or Ghosted even...etc etc.
Screwed is based on former prison warder Ronnie Thompson's memoir of the same name. I haven't read the book but, even though I know it was met by much scepticism and controversy, after seeing the film I'm certain this adaptation took some liberties to make it so ridiculously unrealistic. Because this really is deeply cliched, hackneyed ranty nonsense - the kind of film the likes of Nuts magazine would herald as a masterpiece and, in keeping with such dubious adoration, the film has a horribly chauvinistic streak running through it as highlighted by a scene which involves Kate Magowan's long suffering wife character criticising her husband (James D'Arcy) for coming home pissed and abusive once more only to suddenly find herself turned on by it and giving herself to him. Yuk.
It would be even more offensive where the film not so laughably poor and obvious. It clearly thinks it has twists and turns in its plot which reveals the prison officer staff to be truly corrupt but frankly you can guess who the wrong uns are straight away.
What's most frustrating about Screwed is that there are actually some actors with good reputable names involved in this farrago of drivel - there's D'Arcy in the lead role somewhat saddled with an unconvincing attack of the cor blimeys as well as a physical resemblance to that other celebrated cinematic novice screw Officer Beal from the big screen version of Porridge, Magowan (an actress who really does need to have better quality control...unless she really is just relying on hubby John Simm to do the good work?) David Hayman, Cal Macaninch and Shane Meadows regulars such as Frank Harper, Andrew Shim and, blink and you really will miss him (despite featuring prominently on the DVD cover) Joseph Gilgun - but they're all utterly wasted by the duff credulity stretching script that paints everything in terms of black and white. I mean, there could be something genuinely quite interesting and thought provoking in the story of a man who is suffering from PTSD following a tour in Afghanistan and finds himself becoming even more damaged and isolated in his civvy occupation working in the prison service, but why bother to delve deep when you can just show him hurling abuse at his wife, getting pissed and coked up in strip clubs and ultimately saving the day before the wife just takes him back as if nothing has ever happened?
Screwed is quite a repulsive little film yet it is one for all the wrong reasons. After a while I was watching purely to play 'guess where in Scarborough this bit was filmed?' and that just about says it all.