Dir/scr: Peter Mullan.UK-France-Italy. 2010. 124mins
Writer/director Peter Mullan has described Neds as ” personal but not autobiographical”. It offers a blistering portrait of a teenage boy’s coming of age in the Glasgow of the 1970s. Raw remembrance is imbued with the acute understandings of hindsight as the intelligent, bookish teenager slowly surrenders to the knife culture and ubiquitous tribalism that surrounds him.
Mullan’s very human story has a personal and universal resonance that should carry the film to international success.
Dramatically compelling if slightly overlong, Neds exudes the tangy authenticity of real life and shifts from chilling bloodshed to raucous hilarity in a heartbeat. The intense violence and relentless foul-language may prove a barrier to some audiences but Neds can easily withstand the obvious comparisons with Shane Meadows This Is England and should prove to be the most commercial of Mullan’s three features to date.
An exemplary use of fashion, facial hair and popular culture paints an accurate but unobtrusive picture of 1970s Scotland. John McGill (Gregg Forrest) is the embodiment of wary vulnerability. The younger brother of the notorious Benny (Joe Szula), John is a shy, studious Catholic boy handicapped by his evident intelligence in a world more likely to respect a throbbing knife scar than a glowing school report.
His home life falls under the shadow of an angry alcoholic father (Mullan) but he shines at school and seems to have a bright future ahead of him. Then he starts to encounter all the barriers of class, gang warfare and low expectations that conspire to suffocate his hopes. There is a grim inevitably to the way the older John (Conor McCarron) abandons himself to the casual violence and nihilism of his peers.
Neds may sound like an exercise in kitchen-sink misery but it is often painfully funny as it flavours the drama with all the cheeky insolence and gallows humour of the communities that John must navigate. Mullan also counterpoints some of the more horrifying moments with bitterly ironic music choices-one gang fight unfolds to the sound of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band performing Irving Berlin’s Cheek To Cheek which feels like an homage to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
Mullan has a proven ability to bring out the best in his actors and he peppers the cast with members of his unofficial rep company (Gary Lewis, Stephen McCole etc). He also helps the mostly untrained, unfamiliar faces of Neds to create fully rounded, believable characters. Conor McCarron gives a charismatic, star-making performance as the older John, holding the screen with his presence and retaining the audience’s compassion for the character even as he is transformed into a figure as menacing and volatile as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.
Neds was subtitled for the world premiere screening in Toronto, which may be necessary for audiences unable to tune into the Scottish dialect, but Mullan’s very human story has a personal and universal resonance that should carry the film to international success.
Production companies Bluelight, Fidelite, Studio Urania
International sales Wild Bunch
Producers Alain De La Mata, Marc Missonier, Olivier Delbosc
Co-producers Conchita Airoldi, Lucinda VanRie, Peter Mullan.
Cinematography Roman Osin
Production designer Mark Leese
Editor Colin Monie
Music Craig Armstrong
Main cast Conor McCarron, Gregg Forest, Louise Goodall, Marianna Palka, Peter Mullan, Gary Lewis