After the BBC banned his original version before it was released, Alan Clarke remade Scum two years later with much of the same cast and crew and the same script (almost). Out of anger, it seems, he made this theatrical version even more violent and shocking than the original and whilst the cinematic reconstruction may be inferior in areas (read my DVD review), at least this version was screened. The truth is out there and for that we should be grateful.

Opening with a scene in which Carlin (Ray Winstone) is handcuffed in a car on his way to begin his sentence at a borstal prison, Scum centres on his development from new boy to "daddy" and the camera never once steps outside the prison's perimeters. Claustrophobic and relentlessly harsh, Clarke's feature debut is a deeply distressing experience and the viewer, like this incarcerated underclass, has no escape - not for a second.

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Upon his arrival, Carlin is welcomed with a few punches to the stomach from one of the wardens. This is routine for all new inmates, it seems, but Carlin is particularly liable to a battering because his offence was hitting an officer. The fact that he was provoked makes no difference here and he soon realises that the best strategy is to shut up and keep his head down.

He learns this from fellow inmate Archer (Mick Ford), a surprisingly well-read chap who intimidates wardens and prisoners alike through his pseudo insane remarks and icy cold stare. They can't work him out and so he gets left alone to some extent. Carlin can't work him out either and after a few beatings from "the daddy" Pongo and his gang, he realises there is another way to survive in borstal.

He takes matters into his own hands, or more accurately, a sock containing two snooker balls. No prize for guessing what he does next, and with the now infamous line, "I'm the daddy now!", Carlin usurps Pongo's reign over the inmates and, scarily, gains privileges from the wardens for doing so. However, with fights, rapes and suicides around every corner, he soon realises that he is as helpless over the other inmates as they are to themselves, a frightening reality that emerges in one of the most unforgettable climaxes ever seen on screen.

The naturalistic performances from everyone involved in this difficult piece are flawless, but Winstone stands out above the rest. Put simply, no other actor could have been Carlin. A man of few words - unless they start with an "f" - we learn more from his expressions than his words, reflecting the exact emotions we feel as powerless onlookers.

Scum is unforgettable for all the right reasons, because you know this sort of thing was actually happening behind closed doors in 1979. It resembles Lord Of The Flies in its depressing depiction of human nature, but there is an actual presence of evil here, because grown men who should have known better governed these adolescents. They were the true scum, as were the powers that be at the BBC for banning the original in the first place, a rather telling occurrence, in retrospect, which goes to show just how much the truth can hurt.

Reviewed on: 28 Jun 2005
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Ruthless depiction of life at a prison for young offenders in Seventies Britain.
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Director: Alan Clarke

Writer: Roy Minton

Starring: Ray Winstone, Mick Ford, Julian Firth, Martin Philips, John Blundell, Phil Daniels, John Fowler

Year: 1979

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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