10 out of 10

Release Date: 21st March 2014

Director: David Mackenzie (You Instead Perfect Sense / Hallam Foe / The Asylum / Young Adam)

Cast: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendlesohn, Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell, Anthony Welsh, David Ajala, Ashley Chin, Gershwyn Eustache Jr, Sian Breckin, Frederick Schmidt, David Avery, Raphael Sowole and Peter Ferdinando

Writer: Jonathan Asser


STARRED-UP-_quad-posterFINAL-1024x768At long last the UK has a prison drama to be proud of.  Experimental Scots director David Mackenzie out does himself with one of the best films of 2014 (regardless of origin). Much has been made of Jack O’Connell’s (TULIP FEVER) ascension to Hollywood in Unbroken and it’s in this film and ’71 that he’s proven himself to be one of the most exciting actors to have emerged from the UK in a very long time.

Jack O’Connell plays Eric Love, a 19-year oldyoung offender who has been pushed into the prison system earlier because he’s been ‘starred up’. This means he’s a violent and borderline unmanageable case. On the same wing is his lifer father, Neville played by Australian actor Ben Mendlesohn (THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE) who hasn’t spent much time with him since the boy was 5.  There’s no sentimental reunions to be had, as respected old lag and loose cannon set about establishing boundaries. Nev is encouraged to nurture and educate the boy by top boy on the wing, Spencer (PETER FERDINANDO – HYENA) but Eric finds a respite of sorts through a counsellor, Ol (RUPERT FRIEND – HOMELAND) who offers an alternative.

There are no breakthrough moments or easy answers in Starred Up.  There’s very little chance of rehabilitation for any of the main characters, an shift in the right direction is a victory but it’s a film of degrees. Success is realised in miniscule increments and that’s what’s great about Starred Up. It’s gritty, yet it’s not designer depression, there’s some very really big ideas at play here. It’s still a film though. There’s a score, well light scenes, blocked scenes, steadi-cam, so it’s not one of those cinema-real ordeals. But at this level there’s still very little distance between audience and action. The violence is close and real. Get Hard this isn’t.

Other Britpics like Ghosted, Offender and Screwed weren’t failures by any long chalk but they only succeeded in certain areas. Starred Up is in a higher league. It’s up there with le Prophet for me. Supporting turns from Rupert Friend and independent film stalwarts like Ashley Chin (VICTIM), Anthony Welsh (SECOND COMING) and David Ajala (PAYBACK SEASON) bolster Jack O’Connell‘s steely and fearless central performance. Ben Mendlesohn has been building a pile of strong supporting roles since he left Oz for Hollywood, yet this is one of his all time best. There’s no trace of his Australian accent and his Neville is great as the established jailbird who gets his ordered world turned upside down. There’s a great scene when the penny drops for Eric that Neville’s cellmate is also his lover. Eric’s only experience of homosexuality is via a child abuse incident when he was 10. So the look of discovery and then distaste is telling, it’s a turning point when all the remaining respect for Neville disappears.

All in all, it’s an incredible watch, obviously it’s not an easy watch. Anyone that’s been on lock down in the UK may well single this film out as the one that reflects life on the inside and it ain’t pretty. This further marks Perfect Sense out to be one of the most exciting directors at work in the UK at the moment. Long may he continue to surprise and devastate in equal measure. Please look out for Perfect Sense too, the world’s most unique apocalypse movie. Top marks for the scriptwriter Jonathan Asser too.

10 out of 10 – Bleak, scary and wonderful. See it.



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