27 January 2011

Review of Peter Mullan’s ‘Neds’ (now showing at The Screen, Dublin).


Set in Glasgow in the 1970s, Neds tells the story of John McGill, a clever, studious, working class boy who becomes inevitably mired in the gang culture that surrounds him. It is, after all, what everyone expects of him.
The older John is brilliantly played by newcomer Conor McCarron, who gives a compelling performance, by turn achingly vulnerable or chillingly psychopathic.
Mullan has described Neds as “personal but not autobiographical” and puts in a menacing performance himself as John’s abusive, alcoholic father -- apparently based on his own.  
The film is moving, but disturbing…and disturbingly familiar for anyone who, like me, grew up on the west coast of Scotland.  The bell bottoms, leather trench coats and boots of the film have given way to tracksuits, trainers and hoodies but little else seems to have changed amongst Glasgow’s ‘non educated delinquents’.
At 124 minutes I found Neds a touch too long - my attention wandered a little during the last twenty minutes or so and I wasn’t wholly convinced by the ending. But the first 100 minutes more than made up for it: Neds is a tense, violent, and energetic film punctuated by the odd fantasy sequence and moments of sheer black comic gold.
The film would, I think, have been braver if John was your typical ned – rather than portrayed as an intelligent, sensitive young man who is driven into the ned subculture by the misery of his home life, along with a healthy dose of class prejudice (“You want a ned? I’ll gie ye a fuckin’ ned” being one of the more memorable lines). John is just not representative  -- but we probably wouldn’t like or care about him or the film if he was.
Some might find Neds a difficult film. The accents, the patter, the violence, the swearing … it could all add up to incomprehension for a non-Scottish audience.  But I hope not, because for all its ugliness and brutality, Neds is a powerful, moving story with big, universal themes of class and society, violence and alienation, religion, redemption and hope.
Oh, and a cracking soundtrack, too.

Picture credit: This image of the film's poster comes from the Screen Cinema's excellent blog.  This D'olier street cinema is probably my favourite in Dublin, and not just because you can buy wine to take into the theatre. It's also where we went to see Neds.
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