© 1979 Berwick Street Productions

Scum (1979)

Director: Alan Clarke
Starring: Ray Winstone
Mick Ford
Year: 1979

The social issues dealt with in this film set entirely in a British borstal are so overwhelming, and the portrayal of them is harrowing, they can overwhelm the film and make it a bit hard to see it as a work of cinema. However, the writing in Scum is excellent throughout. A crucial scene comes two-thirds in, in which Archer, one of the few free-thinking boys in the institution, has a heart-to-heart with one of the wardens. All of the other boys are away at chapel. Archer, who insists he is a vegetarian as well as an atheist, is exempt from attending. “How can anyone build a character inside a regime based on deprivation?” the teenager asks. “It is a one-way contamination. My experience tells me that more criminal acts are imposed on criminals in institutions than by criminals on society.” Of course the warden doesn’t care for this expression of free thinking and reprimands the boy. Archer’s observation is really the core idea of the film, although it is the billiard balls in a sock beating scene and the climatic riot that most people will remember.

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