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UK 1979
Directed by
Alan Clarke
96 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


For a lot of people Ray Winstone appeared out of nowhere in 2001’s Sexy Beast but he had had a long career in British television prior to that. Here as a mere 22 year old he plays the kind of character that is his now familiar stock in trade as Carlin, a Cockney Borstal inmate with a flair for physical intimidation.

Although the kind of in-your-face brutality we see here is now unexceptional in prison films and has been stylistically superseded by films such as Bronson one can appreciate the kind of impact this film would have had in its day.

Having its genesis in a BBC-commissioned drama that was buried because of its frank exposure of the endemic violence in the Borstal system, director Alan Clarke remade it as a feature film two years later with much of the same cast and crew.  One feels that the representation of the warders is a tad over-stated  in its sadism but there is no question that the central message about the dehumanization which results from the institutionalization of cruelty is effectively brought home. This is not due, however, to the somewhat improbable philosophizing of one of the inmates Archer (Mick Ford) but rather to Clarke unapologetic depiction of the cold and unyielding  environment of the prison (which we never leave) and the endless round of brutality as Carlin gets drawn inexorably into the cycle of violence.

Despite being displaced by many related works since, Scum still impresses as a “social issue” film and Winstone's performance is quite an eye-opener for anyone only familiar with his now stock character.

Available from: Screenpop




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