Director: Alan Clarke
Starring: Ray Winstone, Mick Ford, Phil Daniels, Julian Firth
Release Date: 12th September
Running Time: 1 hour & 38 minutes
The theatrical edition of Scum was released to an appalled public in 1979, and has remained controversial to this day. I do not wish to downplay just how gritty and bleak this film is, Scum remains a tough film to watch despite its age, but it deserves to be remembered for much more than the violent images it depicts. Scum should be held in the same high esteem that is bestowed on other classic dramas like Boys From The Blackstuff, Oranges are not the Only Fruit, or Cracker as examples of a time when British tv and cinema was unashamed of the images it portrayed in pursuit of political or social truth. For this reason Scum remains a grim, but crucially important piece of cinema.
Scum tells the story of Carlin, played by a young Ray Winstone on top form, a young offender who rises through the ranks of his borstal, using violence and intimidation to reach the rank of “Daddy” of his wing. However, Scum is not really interested in the rise of Carlin, although it is an important plot-line, but instead focuses on the systematic abuse that is forced on individuals by the guards as well as the other inmates, and the hierarchical system that begins to emerge within the prison. The guards and governors are in charge of the prison, but they are in no way a support group or safety net: instead the guards treat the inmates as if they were below human. The inmates are allowed to inflict the most heinous crimes against each other as long as the correct social order is maintained. In one important scene Archer, who is the most interesting character in the film due to an incredibly captivating performance by Mick Ford, begins to push against the metaphorical barrier between guard and prisoner through a conversation relating to the officers lowly rank, only for the guard to resort to authoratitive action as he cannot match Archer’s sharp intellect.
As I stated in the opening Scum remains an incredibly powerful, but none-the-less grim portrayal of life inside the young offenders system. The violence that is presented goes much deeper than beatings, or fights between the inmates in showing the abuse that is handed out by the guards who run the wing. In some sequences the reactions of the guards to the suffering of the inmates is extremely cruel, even in the face of some of the most barbaric crimes, and while Scums realistic portrayal of these events, as well as the depiction of race-related violence and abuse will certainly alienate some viewers, it is a film that should be seen for both its power as well as director Alan Clarke’s refusal to simplify or censor any of the brutal crimes that were commited in the name of rehabilatation or justice.