Scum (1979) | One of the most controversial British films of all time still has the power to shock and numb

Scum (1979)

IN BORSTAL SURVIVAL RULES!
Young offenders Carlin (Ray Winstone), Angel (Alrick Riley) and Davis (Julian Firth) are sent to a tough British borstal in the country where they are brutalised by inmates and governors alike.

After being singled out by Banks (John Blundell), the existing ‘Daddy’ on his wing, Carlin fights back, rising to the top of the prisoner heap. But for Angel and Davis life behind bars is much harder to take, especially so for Davis who takes his own life after a terrifying gang rape…

Scum (1979)

I’M THE F***ING DADDY NOW!
This brutal and disturbing film from 1979 remakes director Alan Clarke‘s BBC Play for Today that was banned from TV two years earlier (it was only shown on Channel 4 following Clarke’s death in 1990), and remains as shocking and powerful today as the day it was first released.

Roy Minton‘s script lays bare the brutal reality of British borstals, which were intended to reform young offenders, but ended up becoming breeding grounds for the next generation of hardened criminals. From the fire and brimstone governor (Peter Howell), sadistic wing head Mr Sands (John Judd) and his thuggish officers to ineffectual house master Goodyear (John Grillo) and an uncaring matron (Jo Kendall), there is not one sympathetic character amongst the staff in charge of the boys, who are so desperately in need of guidance, understanding and discipline, but end up being treated with brutal force and intimidation.

Set essentially in a boarding school with bars, Clarke’s film evokes the rebellious ‘two-fingers up at the establishment’ spirit of Lindsay Anderson’s If… (1968), and this is perfect captured in the film’s (improvised) riot scene in which the inmates vent their anger in response to Davis’ suicide. There are also shades of A Clockwork Orange in there, especially in Grillo’s greasy house master, who reminded me of Anthony Sharp’s sleazy Minister of the Interior in Kubrick’s film. Cinematically, the film is shot with a documentary flair, while its wintery exterior scenes are reminiscent of the paintings of LS Lowry.

Scum (1979)

Grim and overwhelming in its squalid sense of reality, the film is a fist in the face in terms of its foul language, racial and religious taunts (politically incorrect by today’s standards), graphic violence and male rape scene, while the acting from the young cast, including future famous faces like Mick Ford, Phil Daniels and Ray Burdis, is uniformly excellent.

35 years on, Scum still resonates (the snooker ball in a sock scene is iconic). But how much has really changed with regards to how we treat our young offenders? Maybe a screening of this restored British classic at Feltham might make for a interesting and lively debate.

Scum (1979)

THE 2014 UK RELEASE
The Odeon Entertainment Blu-ray and DVD release features the film digitally restored and graded at 2K from the original negatives by Pinewood Studios and includes the original audio mix and newly created 5.1 surround mix.

SPECIAL EXTRAS
The extras include the two-part ITV documentary Skin about young black males within the borstal system; and an archive TV clip about Mary Whitehouse’s court challenge. The other extras were also featured in the 2005 2-disc DVD release, including the Ray Winstone commentary with critic Nigel Floyd, cast memories, trailer and interviews with producers Clive Parsons and Devina Beling, executive producer Don Boyd and writer Roy Minton.

 

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About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on September 20, 2014, in British Film, Must-See and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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