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Gang show

Pauline McLean | 14:07 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

It's hard not to feel slightly depressed about the subject of Peter Mullan's new film.

Writ high in giant letters around Glasgow's Cineworld Cinema - NEDS.

Film critics have been raving about it.

The San Sebastian Film festival gave it their top award - and another for its teenage star Conor McCarron.

But do we need another film about Glasgow's grim and depressing gang culture?

Mullan certainly believes so.

It's been almost a decade since his last film - Magdalene Sisters - and this was on his radar long before. He describes the story as "personal but not autobiographical".

His own experience of gang culture was on the fringes but enough to inform the film's narrative.

It does have its funny moments - not least the best schoolteacher cameo, from Gary Lewis, since Chic Murray in Gregory's Girl - but mostly it's a sad and moving story about a young boy let down by his friends and his family (Mullan gives a searing performance as his drunken, violent father).

Its authenticity is further helped by the fact that Mullan - and his brother, the casting director - chose to use untrained local youngsters, rather than the usual source of the Scottish Youth Theatre.

The result is some genuinely unsettling, and adrenalin-fuelled performances.

Then there's McCarron, himself, his stocky, sweet-faced John McGill is a far cry from the Mullans' vision of a wiry youth - but his performance is both enthralling and disturbing, as he descends from studious kid to out of control teenager to full-blown pyschotic.

His performance has been compared to De Niro - not bad for a boy, whose main ambition until now was completing a course in heating insulation at Cardonald College.

The ending is surreal and ambiguous.

You can only hope McGill transcends his circumstances - and finds a way out of the spiralling tit-for-tat violence.

Mullan himself may have only been on the sidelines of gang culture, but he moved on to tell his tale, a heartbreaking story of the pointless cycle of violence which continues today.

In a sad ironic twist, McCarron's own father is currently serving a prison service for the knife murder of a customer in his Glasgow pub.

Mullan is quick to defend his young actor.

"We carried out thorough checks of all the cast when we began filming - to make sure no-one was involved in anything untoward, particularly with over 16s working with under 16s.

"This (the murder) happened when filming was finished and we were in post production so it wasn't an issue at the time.

"Thankfully we live in society where the sins of mums, fathers, uncles, siblings should not be visited on the individual.

"For me it's unspeakably unfair because you cannot have the crimes of relatives determining the lives of a complete innocent who had nothing to do with the crime."

So do we need another film about gangs? Bafta clearly don't think so.

The film was completely ignored on their shortlist announced earlier.

But Mullan is unfazed.

"I don't think Bafta juries watch half the films that are out there so I'm really not disappointed.

"I'm much more interested in how the film goes down with real audiences when it's released next week. That's what really counts."

NEDS is on general release from Friday.


  • Comment number 1.

    Does anyone know when the earliest use of the word Ned was in print or otherwise? Some say a 70's STV crime show used it, others say it's from a gang of Irish delinquents who ran riot in 19th C. London. I suspect the acronym of Non-Educated Delinquent has been retro-fitted because who uses the words; Non-Educated? Uneducated surely. I've got a Scottish joke book published by Wolfe in 1968 that uses the word Neds to describe thugs in Glasgow. Can anyone beat this? I'm sure Peter's film doesn't intend to glamourise violence but adrenaline fuelled films about gangs have sometimes in the past inspired just the sort of behaviour that they purport to be portraying as tragic, circumstantial, downward spirals.A Clockwork Orange or The Warriors anyone? I wish he'd called it Numpties instead. I suspect the cinema cleaners will have more than a few Buckie bottles to tidy away. On a positive note though, if the 1970's setting gets present day Neds out of trying their best to emulate Jimmy Saville's look; trackies, trainers, sovvys and medalions it'll be a good thing. At least we might now have some real accents other than the usual one adopted by the Scottish Youth Theatre. Good luck Peter.

  • Comment number 2.

    The most probable derivation is from a contraction of ne'er-do-well - the term was in common use in my childhood in the 50s and I'm pretty sure it had been around for some time by then. I agree that "Numpties" would probably have gotten the point across a bit better. Most Neds seem to revel in any cinematic or TV depiction of themselves. I've heard them on buses laughing about their brethren on "Still Game", totally unable to take the point that the programme is ripping the p**s out of them. At least "Numpties" would make it clear that they're not objects of admiration.

  • Comment number 3.

    As far as I was aware it derived from Ned Kelly.


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