Boys, Borstal and Brutality
Pretty much anyone who has heard of the movie "Scum" will know of its notoriety. Originally made as a TV drama it was banned and so writer Roy Minton and director Alan Clarke remade it for cinema giving Ray Winstone his first starring role in a movie. If that wasn't enough it also features a frighteningly realist portrayal of life in a borstal where brutal violence is dished out whilst uncaring wardens watch on as we witness some graphic, disturbing scenes to boot. It is the sheer realism and graphic nature of "Scum" which still makes it such a high impact movie because since 1979 we have had other movies which have taken us into a young offender's correctional facility and dealt with the unpleasantness which goes on behind the walls with few coming close to the cold reality of "Scum".
Where many movies have a storyline built around a central character "Scum" is more of an experience as we are taken behind the walls of a fictitious borstal where young criminals are sent to reform. We may have the main character of Carlin whose notoriety leads to numerous confrontations with both guards and fellow inmates as he becomes the Daddy but we equally have Archer who refuses to be broken by the system and young Davis who is not as strong as others and as such is a victim. As such "Scum" is the full experience of life inside a borstal which thankfully has changed since the days when "Scum" was made.
Now the thing about "Scum" is watching now, some 30 years after it was released certain aspects of it don't have the same impact. When we get introduced to the institution and we have the vindictive guards and also the inmate who is the top dog or daddy in this case, it now feels very familiar. There have been plenty of prison movies since which have done the same but often combining them into some sort of escape story which isn't the case here. It means that the shocking realism of the wrongful regime inside doesn't have the same impact as it would have had back in the day.
But having said that the sheer realism of what we watch in "Scum" does have a huge impact from Carlin after trying to keep a low profile finally dishing out beatings to those who bully others to other weaker prisoners who are bullied and victimized. There is a brutal ferocity to the actual action in "Scum" and whilst it feels like every aspect of the movie has been used in one prison movie or another since few have managed to do so with such terrifying realism. If you don't know what I am hinting at I'm not going to say but trust me it will make you see more recent prison movies in a very different light when you watch one notorious scene.
Now whilst "Scum" may have seen Ray Winstone take his first big screen lead role he certainly doesn't seem fazed by it. It is such a strong performance from Winstone as Carlin, delivering that wonderful blend of a hard nut who knows he is tough but doesn't need to go around intimidating others, using his brain till it is time to stamp his authority which he does in quite brutal fashion. And Winstone is not the only one who impresses as Mick Ford as Archer is just as impressive especially with his general demeanour of I am going to passively annoy the crap out of the wardens by knowing my rights and not conforming. Whist Winstone and Ford may be the two who command are attention the rest of the cast are by no means weak and watching it now there are numerous faces you will recognize as they have gone on to careers in TV.
What this all boils down to is that "Scum" despite being over 30 years old is still a movie which grabs your attention and doesn't let it go. There may have more recent movies which have painted a brutal picture of life in a correctional facility but none have managed to deliver the same cold realism of "Scum".