"Scum" (1979) may now be over 30 years old, but its stunning power, notoriety and shock factor hasn't dwindled! Nor has its wide spread appeal. Films like "Scum" are just simply timeless in their power! This totally harrowing, often stomach-churning drama is a commendably daring (but then again its not really daring when you are merley depicting the truth - no matter how grim or appalling) and unflinching look at life inside a fictious boys juvenile centre (otherwise known as borstal).
Extremely edgy, startlingly powerful and completely shocking, "Scum" depicts brutal violence, racial predujice, homeosexuality and sexual abuse in a way that hits you right between the eyes! Not comfortable, easy viewing by any means - almost like sitting on a barbed wire fence its that painfully real. You could easily forget your watching, what is a superbly made drama, and think you were watching a documentary as it has that in-your-face, astoundingly stark effect! You really will not be able to take your eyes off this stuff - if you enjoy being kept on the edge of your seat and being continually shocked then "Scum" is definitely the film for you! The brutally stark realism in Ray Mintons written screenplay is richly complimented by razor-sharp direction from the innovative, award-winning Alan Clarke (one of his few feature films as he mostly worked in television).
The ever-excellent Ray Winstone excells in the lead role as tough-boy Carlin. The role seems as though it was tailor made for him! Watching Ray Winstone stride confidently with that air of authority through the grim corridors of the borstal - with that famous "Don't f*** with me" look on his face that Ray is renowned and legendary for, you do get the immediate impression that he didnt have to do much acting to convince you that he's not a man to be messed with! Ray breezes into the role naturally though on the audio commentary of the DVD he credits his superb performance to director Alan Clarke. Its a flawless, dynamic performance and Ray is utter perfection in the role.
Carlin (Ray Winstone) had ended up in a juvenile centre after being convicetd of petty theft. He had been transferred to the borstal after defending himself against a vicious prison officer that had been kicking and beating the living daylights out of him! At first Carlin keeps his head down, wanting to serve his time as quickly and quietly as possible. Unfortunatley the "daddy" on the wing has other ideas for Carlin. During one night in the crowded dormitory, the "daddy" and his gang of no-hope bullies give Carlin a brutal beating. Carlin is visibly bruised all over and for this he end up on a charge for fighting and serves 3 days in an isolation block! Having had plenty of time to think while locked away, Carlin soon realises its time for business and asserts himself in order to survive.
Some of the most brutal moments in "Scum" occur when during recreation period, Carlin stuffs a few snooker balls into a sock. With it tightly clenched in his fists, Carlin strides casually over to Richards (played by the superb Phil Daniels) and at full force, literally wraps it around Richards face and head, then gives him a good few kicks where it hurts! Casually again, Carlin strides off, places the snooker balls back on the table , glances at the bemused prisoners playing snooker and calmly says "well carry on then" and then goes and hunts down the "daddy". He is found in the washroom, washing his face. Carlin wastes no time and grips hold of the so-called "daddy" by his head and continually smashes his face into the sink, cutting half his face open. It is then that Carlin utters those legendary words most associated with the film: "I'm the f***** daddy round here now!". Yes it's all nasty, brutal stuff yet riviting at the same time. It's due to Alan Clarkes astute, street-smart direction that gives the film that docudrama-like sharp edge.
The brilliant Phil Daniels is particularly scary and menacing as the notorious bully Richards while Mick Ford is equally endearing as Archie. The refined but troublesome Archie thoroughly enjoys rebelling againse all rules of the system and enjoys making life as difficult and aggrivating as possible for the corrupt, violent prison officers. Claiming to be a vegetarian (though subsequently is revealed he actually isnt!) he refuses point blank to wear any leather shoes, having to have plastic shoes tailor-made for him, much to his amusement and their annoyance, is an aethiast who refuses to attend chapel on a Sunday much to the frustration of the deeply religious givernor and is something of a philospher (something else he enjoys annoying the "screws" with). A sensitive side to the character is shown in a touching scene where he takes the time to read to an illiterate boy all of his parents letters to him. Its a role Mick Ford plays with conviction, sensitivity and intelligence.
In a more gentle role is Julian firth Davis as the niaeve, vulnreable Alrick Riley, who has "victim" written across his face. He swiftly becomes an easy target for the bullies though is taken under the wing of Carlin. It has to be said that Julian Firth Davis is involved in what is easily the most harrowing scene of "Scum" when he is sexually abused and assaulted by 3 other prisoners. Hard to keep your eyes open in that scene as its deeply disturbing. To add to the sheer horror of this, one of the officers simply stands by and watches the brutal attack with a sick, sadistic smile on his face throughout! What's equally disturbing is when Alrick, following the rape, slashes his own wrists and begins crying and shouting out in agony. He rings the bell in his cell continually, but the officer on duty ignores it! He is tragically discovered dead in his cell the following morning. Excruciating scenes!
Other than the nightmarish violence, the film also highlights racism by both the prisoners and the officers in charge! Many of the sadistic warders constantly taunt the black prisoners and encourage racism among the other prisoners. For instance in a game of basketball the teams are split into black people vs white people. Yet the warder claims its NOT a racial thing and not to fight but during the game he witnesses much violence, which is simmering with racial tension, and just turns a blind eye!
The famous, climatic riot was evidently improvised as explained in the audio commentary by Ray Winstone. Following the tragic, senseless death of Alrick Riley, the "daddy" Carlin decides to take a stand against the diabolical treatment that the prison officers subject them too and to show the death of Alrick was the final straw! It is in the dining room that he stages the riot, throwing his food tray against the wall and on cue all the prisoners follow in pursuit by completely trashing the entire area, throwing tables, chairs, anything they could get their hands on, and smashing all the windows (despite being told not to by the director as explained in one of the interviews on the dvd with Phil Daniels). Its visually powerful stuff! Their victory doesnt last long as after the riot has ended, and in the penultimate scene, Carlin, Archie and other prisoners are seen dragged into their cells after another brutal bashing from the warders.
"Scum" is outstanding in its direction, acting and screenplay and firmly stands a good head and shoulders over many British films today.Infact "Scum" is unparalleled! Its a film that immediately draws you in, not letting your attention lapse until the credits roll. Over 30 years on, it stands as a riviting, uncompromising look at life inside a borstal and is truly an out and out masterpiece.