Home > Film, Opinions (Film) > Film – Quick Thoughts: Scum

Film – Quick Thoughts: Scum

Scum, directed by Alan Clarke
Written by: Roy Minton
Starring: Ray Winstone, Mick Ford and Julian Firth
My rating: 2 of 5

This story was originally created as a play to highlight the shocking conditions on British borstals, only to be banned by the BBC for being too controversial. Its creators made it into a film instead, which was shown on Channel 4 (who were then prosecuted for showing it). It’s no longer considered controversial (and even the borstal system had been overhauled before its broadcast) but it’s not hard to see why it caused a stir at the time. It’s violent and graphic and some scenes still aren’t pleasant to watch, more than thirty years after it was made.

I had trouble connecting to it because it’s one of those films where almost every main character is unpleasant. All the guards are thugs and the borstal is run by a religious zealot, but most of the inmates are also violent thugs, the few likeable characters pushed to the side and left to suffer. Ray Winstone’s Carling is the main character, and when he first comes in the place is run by three nasty inmates. It’s obvious that he’s going to take care of them at some point, but when he does so he just kind of takes their place, running the same crooked schemes with the guards, being generally violent and foul and not really helping people. His opinion seems to be that he thinks he has to be strong and merciless to stay in power, but pretending to be horrible is no different to actually being awful, if you never actually do anything but play the role.

I liked the Archer character, who sees how broken the whole system is and refuses to play along, deliberately antagonising the guards and the warden despite knowing it will mean he has to serve his whole sentence instead of getting out early, but he didn’t really have much of an arc. There are others who are very sympathetic characters, but I don’t think one of them has a happy ending, because of course that wasn’t a goal of the film. It was okay film, but like I said I just couldn’t connect to it on a few levels.

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