sat 24/08/2019

NEDS | reviews, news & interviews

NEDS

NEDS

Peter Mullan's violent semi-autobiographical story of a Glasgow childhood

Conor McCarron gives an astonishingly natural and subtle central performance in 'NEDS'

Actor/director Peter Mullan describes NEDS, his third film as director (after Orphans and The Magdalene Sisters), as “personal but not autobiographical”, although it undoubtedly draws heavily on his working-class upbringing in 1970s Glasgow. He was, like his lead character John McGill, the academically gifted younger brother of a local hard man, determined to do well at school and escape the violent life he saw around him. Their father, as in the film, was a “raping, bullying alcoholic”.

Actor/director Peter Mullan describes NEDS, his third film as director (after Orphans and The Magdalene Sisters), as “personal but not autobiographical”, although it undoubtedly draws heavily on his working-class upbringing in 1970s Glasgow. He was, like his lead character John McGill, the academically gifted younger brother of a local hard man, determined to do well at school and escape the violent life he saw around him. Their father, as in the film, was a “raping, bullying alcoholic”.

As the film begins, we see the young John, book in hand and speaking of his plans to attend university, scared witless when a thug from a rival gang to his elder brother’s threatens him. John (Gregg Forest) may be gentle and sweet-faced, but he knows enough about how life is lived in these parts to get a message to Benny (Joe Szula), who has left home after getting into trouble. Benny then viciously beats up the wrong guy, but as John watches we realise that, while he may be appalled by the violence, he does nothing to stop it.

John’s home life is one of opposites. A loving, supportive mother and aunt, and an affectionate relationship with his younger sister have to vie with the malevolent presence of his father (played by Mullan), who ignores his family when sober but calls loudly for his wife’s sexual favours when drunk.

The action jumps forward a few years when John (now played by Conor McCarron) is a star pupil at the Catholic high school and rather full of himself. It's full of brutal teachers but one of them goes out of his way to help him. Then, when a touching friendship with a boy from a middle-class family goes sour, John throws away his chances at school, cheeking teachers and joining a gang. It’s as if he’s saying, "Well, everyone expects me to go bad, so I will," and before long his life is one violent episode after another, including knife-wielding gang fights and disabling injuries inflicted on another teenager for a piffling offence, and which culminates in a horrific attack on his father. John is excluded from school, his one possible escape route from a predictably troubled existence, and we wonder if he can turn his life around.

This is a remarkable film in many ways - angry, visceral, brimming with testosterone and not a little self-mythologising (Mullan describes his gang membership as “I was a total tourist”) - and has touches of Taxi Driver and Ken Loach about it. But mostly because, with a few exceptions, the young cast playing various friends and neighbours are non-professionals and they turn in wonderfully believable and natural performances. McCarron in particular is astonishing, a brooding presence of few words who manages to convey John’s menace and sly intelligence with the slightest change in facial expression.

I must confess a distaste for violence on screen, but Mullan mixes it with raucous black humour, from John’s friends - the cheeky, rob-their-grandmother NEDS (non-educated delinquents) of the title - to the wonderfully surreal, hilarious yet blasphemous scene in which the drug-addled John pulls Christ down from the cross, only to kill him again in a cartoonish fist fight.

And yet... I felt little emotional connection with John throughout this rather overlong film until the final scene. It’s not giving anything away to say that it’s a moment of quiet redemption as “John” grew up to go to university and become an acclaimed actor and director (NEDS won two awards at the San Sebastian film festival). After the murder and mayhem that has gone before, often accompanied by a frantic soundtrack, it’s a quirkily funny and touching moment as John begins to make amends for his past, and is utterly memorable.

Watch the trailer for NEDS

This is a remarkable film in many ways - angry, visceral, brimming with testosterone

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Comments

i didnt understand the final scene

I have just returned home from the cinema watched NEDS. Loved it, but didn't understand the final scene at all?? Can anyone explain it?

Simply taking pride in his work?

i can try to explain you... have you heard the story of Daniel and the lions

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