The multi-talented Peter Mullan returns to directing with NEDS - a brutal but also darkly comic tale of a smart young kid turning to violence in 1970s Glasgow. The movie addresses head on issues of class prejudice, and the way in which the British education system fails its kids. John McGill starts off as a really smart, ambitious kid, but everything is stacked against him. His dad is a violent alcoholic; his elder brother is a juvenile delinquent; and because of that, he's consigned to a lower stream in school than he should be in. Still, he powers on, does well and is set for success. Problem is that in a summer where he has little to do, he falls in with the wrong crowd. And when faced with middle-class prejudice - people who expect him to be a Non-Educated Deliquent - his inner anger spills over and he gives them what he thinks they want. So follows a tale of self-sabotage stemming from deep, deep inner hurt. It's absolutely tragic to see a nice kid turn bad, partly because it's just incredibly difficult to escape inexorable social forces.
The film is beautifully filmed and Mark Lease's production design perfectly captures the 1970s working class atmosphere. And my word, seeing those kids being taught like that - those old fashioned classrooms, latin exercises and marks read out loud - it took me right back! Peter Mullan takes a basically unknown cast and coaxes performances that feel authentic, and his script is the perfect mix of harsh and light relief. My only critique is that the movie seems to have a natural ending about an hour and fifty minutes in, when the protagonist, deciding to turn himself around, finds himself in a remedial class in a portacabin, and has to face the consequences of his actions. But the movie carries on for another half hour. I can see why - it gives the movie a more definite ending - a more hopeful note in some ways - but I felt it was a bit redundant - a bit too leading us by the hand - literally! Still, for all that, NEDS is a powerful, and entertaining movie, despite the tough content, and definitely worth seeking out.
NEDS played Toronto and London 2010. It was released in Spain in December 2010 and will be released in the UK on January 21st.