Reviewer: JAMES ACKLAND
Label - Cinema Cult
Audio - English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1
Region Coding - B (Blu-Ray)
TV Standard - PAL
Rating - R18+
Year of Release - 1979
`Buy here from Screenpop
Tagline: In Borstal survival rules
Alan Clark gives a brutally honest inside look into juvenile detention system in 1970's England.
Carlin (Ray Winstone) is sent to a borstal for young offenders after knocking down a police officer and is quickly submerged into a world of hierarchy, abuse and power.
Within the Borstal walls life is directed by the Screws, adult supervisors who answer to the Governor. The Screws then confer with the head prisoner, the Daddy. The Daddy's job is to keep order within the other inmates through fear and pressure. You'll witness physical, mental and sexual abuse. Heavy acts of racism and humiliation leading to the inevitable disintegration of the human spirit. The blind eye turned on those in apparent rehabilitation is clearly marked in the governors firm statement "There is no violence here!"
Carlin soon learns to use physical intimidation and the prisoners moral code of conduct to rise amongst the ranks. Once there life allows some kind of privilege and he is able to better manage himself and fellow inmates. But amongst corrupt officials and the bad seeds order must be dealt with some very harsh penalties.
There is no facing away from the violence and abuse shown here. To present it in another way would be false. I'm sure there were less harsh institutions and I'm sure there were even more violent ones.
Clark was known for his unflinching realism in many of his television works and here we see him free of many constrains that would censor his vision. We never leave the borstal to see the outside world, we the audience are imprisoned with the unfairly young inmates and suffer many of the violence they deal with daily.
Winstone had actually just been kicked out of drama school for vandalism and went to a round of auditions so he could have a beer afterwards with some fellow actors. Clark noticing Winstones cockiness cast him then and there.
Scum was originally shot 2 years prior as a TV play for the popular series Play for today. However it's presentation of the grim reality was too much for the BBC and it was banned before even screening. In a clear sign of disappointment and retaliation Clarke then decided to make the full movie version we have today which upon release was quickly included into the Video nasty category a term infamously used in the early 1980s. Reality for brits was to be seen on shows like Coronation street and the Two Ronnies as far as the government managed censor board would have it.
The incredibly young and even then talented Ray Winstone may be the familiar actor in Scum but as far as performance goes, he is relegated as the second player to Mick Ford's Archer. A vegetarian literary type who relishes using his wit and intellect to obtain small wins over the hand that feeds. So effortlessly played and an important character to have amongst the cast.
Also of note are nods to Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange. Is this the alternative to Alex's treatment? And the governor (Peter Howell) bears more than a passing resemblance and mannerisms to Clockwork's Minister of the interior.
Clarke would go on to direct Made in England (1982) introduce the world to Tim Roth, direct David Bowie in Baal (1982) and Gary Oldman in The Firm (1989) before succumbing to cancer in 1990.
This was my first watch of Scum and to be honest while I have maybe read about it in a few film magazines I knew very little about it. While it's a very tough watch I have to also conclude that it is a British classic and a document of high importance.
Scrum remains as harrowing, controversial and important as it was in 1979.
The Blu ray transfer of the film is brilliant, crisp and clear. As is the audio track. It's been superbly maintained. The only beef I have with this release is its lack of any kind of extras that have been available on other releases. Overall we are glad that Shock has brought this to us locally and made it willingly available ; and most importantly uncut.