Ken Loach directs this raw and gritty coming-of-age drama set in Greenock, Scotland, where unemployment is high and drugs are rife. Liam (Martin Compston) is a young, restless teenager, who hangs around the streets with best mate Pinball (William Ruane) and waits for the release from jail of his mother, Jean (Michelle Coulter), who is serving time for a crime actually committed by her drug dealer boyfriend, Stan (Gary McCormack). When Liam refuses to help Stan out with his latest consignment of drugs, he ends up being kicked out of his own house, and moves in with his older sister, single mum Chantelle (Annmarie Fulton). He decides to find a way out of Stan's violent clutches for himself and his mother when she is released, and in his determination to raise the cash to buy a caravan for them to live in, he comes up with a plan to steal Stan's stash and sell it to local junkies. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Liam ironically finds himself ending up embroiled in the very life of crime he had struggled to avoid.
Released in 2002, Sweet Sixteen
represents Ken Loach's finest and most successful work in years. Set in Greenock, a small Glaswegian suburb whose magnificent surrounding landscape contrasts with the urban deprivation of its grey streets and tenements, it tells the story of 15-year-old Liam (Martin Compston), an entrepreneurial young scamp who flogs knocked-off cigarettes in pubs with his best mate Pinball. However, determined to wean his imprisoned mother off her drug-dealing boyfriend Stan, he graduates to selling hard drugs for big-time gangster Tony. He's unscrupulous yet selfless, happy to resort to crime to create a new life for his mum and reunite her with his older sister Chantelle. But reality will sorely test his naive illusions.
Sweet Sixteen, scripted by Paul Laverty, is quintessential Loach, exciting tremendous sympathy for a character whom in real life you might distantly regard as a contemptible scumbag, without romanticising either him or his lifestyle and upbringing. Yet there's real and touching pathos in his deep-seated need to restore his fractured, domestic background: touchingly and pathetically he regards the tiny £6,000 riverside caravan he's earmarked for his mum as "paradise". By the end of the movie, you truly want to hug the poor knife-wielding smack dealer. The cast of (mostly) unknowns all turn in sterling, authentic performances but Martin Compston rightly took plaudits for his unaffected, deeply engaging portrayal of Liam.
On the DVD: Sweet Sixteen on disc offers numerous extras. Subtitles including English may prove necessary even for English speakers to cut through the foggy Glaswegian accents. In the commentary, Loach slams the British Board of Film Censors for their "ludicrous" decision to award the film an 18 certificate. Meanwhile, a short documentary, Sweet Success, reflects on how the film wowed Cannes and the impact it's had on the life of its star, the 17-year-old plucked from obscurity in a mass audition who gave up a promising career as a professional footballer to take up acting instead. --David Stubbs
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.