Someone more wise than myself once said to me, ‘There’s one thing for sure. If someone keeps telling you that your shit, then you will eventually believe it’.
Writer and director, Peter Mullan’s follows the bleak journey of an intelligent young man called John McGill (a fantastic debut by Conor McArron) and how a combination of peer pressure, social stigma and frustration lead him into the predictable path of youth growing up in the Maryhill area in early 1970’s.
The story begins with an innocent and shy John picking up an achievement award for his school work and being told by his aunt that he can achieve anything if he keeps his head down and works hard. However on entering secondary school his family name has already singled him out as a troublemaker by the teachers and a threat by the pupils due to his older brother’s unruly and violent behaviour. But over time he proves his worth and respect of his teachers and things start to look up. Unfortunately you can take the boy out of Maryhill but you can’t take Maryhill out of the boy. A combination of factors, including the constant abuse of his mother by his alcoholic and monstrous father (an underused Peter Mullan), the pressure of the gangs on the estate and the mistrust and fear of the parents of the middle class friends that he socialises with, starts to take it’s toll on John. He starts to realise that the anger and worthlessness that boils within him is shared by the youths in the flats and terraced blocks around him and his priorities change dramatically.
Surprisingly the most explicit aspect of the Mullen’s drama is the language and not the onscreen violence. To my knowledge the excessive use of the word f$ck, f$cking and f&cker are commonly used in rough Glasgow banter, sometimes cropping up several times in one sentence and not always used for vulgar and aggressive purposes. Please be aware that if you are not Scottish, the accents are very broad and sometimes difficult to follow.
Most of the project’s disturbing images are that of the aftermath of the gang warfare rather than the brief gang battles. One particular scene where John punishes a new gang member with a gravestone proves very significant in his downward spiral and later consequences.
I can only hope that Conor McArron goes on to bigger and better things from his debut. His appearence reminded me of a young Ray Winstone in his role as a similarly troubled youth in Scum. While nowhere near as graphic as that project it certainly has the emotional puch.
Perhaps the most impressive moments are those with the fantastic and grizzled Peter Mullan. In the role of a despicable excuse of a human being, he asks his son something at the dinner table that almost had me in tears. All with one short line and the reaction of hurt and disgust by his son.
The final scene has the best one liner in the movie and a surreal, touching and comical closing image. I had the choice of this or Black Swan this weekend and I do not regret the decision.
One final point. My next door neighbour, Gary Hollywood turned up in a role of an unhelpful policeman. I nearly shouted out ‘there’s Gary!’ but I didn’t due to the impeccably behaved audience. There was not a peep from all those in attendance and that is usually a good sign.