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A great package for a great film, or rather two
on 12 April 2008
As most know, Scum was made twice. After the initial BBC version was declared unfit for broadcast, the film was remade for cinematic release. While the first was the one that was banned, the second is by far a tougher watch. Both films are presented here, alongside a host of extras, at long last.
Scum is one of Alan Clarke's many films which deal with violence as a way of life with little reason given for why it is. For Ray Winstone's Carlin, staying on top is simply a way of staying alive, and vice versa, in the tough realm of British Borstal, more or less a prison for young offenders. The inmates in this prison are left to their own devices, which of course culminates in tragedy (twice even, depending on which version you watch). There is no catharsis in Scum; no resolution and no character development. If anything, all we see is character disintegration, both guard- and self-inflicted. That said, there are touches of humanity in the film, often overlooked. Some of the boys keep their heads out of trouble, and some even help others, although in Carlin's case, only when it benefits himself.
The cast is great, with Ray Winstone all swagger (allegedly he was hired because of his walk) and talk, hiding well Carlin's myriad insecurities. David Threlfall and Mick Ford both give entertaining takes on Archer, the institute's resident free-thinker and cheeky bother-maker. The supporting cast of villains all play their parts well, most convinced that they're much more important than they really are. Egos run rampant, and you can really see the actors having fun with it. Clarke's recognizeable style is clearly emerging in this picture. Many have said that the BBC version feels too much like a documentary, which holds up even today. Roy Minton's script is flawless and doesn't feature a single line that feels out of place, due in large part no doubt to his extensive research for the film.
The extras in this set are short but informative. Both discs feature retrospective interviews about their respective production, and serve to tell why the film was made, and the impact it had. Although I have yet to listen to the BBC commentary, I did give the Ray Winstone film version a spin, and despite the poor audio quality it keeps your interest throughout, and he clearly has plenty to say. It is worth noting that his homosexual subplot is only in the version of the film he does not comment on, and he has been vocal about his dislike for this element in the past. It is also interesting to hear how Minton and Clarke fell out over some of plot threads eschewed in the film version, only to reunite as Clarke was dying. A couple of trailers round out the package.
Overall, Scum is not an easy watch. It's hard to emphasize with characters who want to beat each other up with pipes, encourage racial violence and commit rape unpunished. But for the message it carries and its sheer, unpolished presentation of what are basically true events, its a must see.