Directed by Peter Mullan
Running Time: 124 minutes
A veteran of Ken Loach and Danny Boyle films and the director of The Magdalene Sisters, Peter Mullan’s new film was never going to be a breezy romp. Neds – Non-Educated Delinquents – tells the story of John McGill, a smart young teenager about to enter secondary school in early ’70s Glasgow. The story is almost as old as the setting itself, bright kid gets in with the wrong crew to avoid troubles at home and boredom of the Summer months and soon finds himself on a quick downward spiral.
It will immediately draw comparisons to Shane Meadows’ This Is England but where as Thomas Turgoose’s character was certainly a victim of his surroundings, it’s hard to feel too sorry for John McGill as he methodically destroys everything around him. It is to Mullan’s credit that he creates a protagonist that is not easily likeable – even early on, he demonstrates a smugness when trying to move classes.
In his film debut, Conor McCarron gives a cold, removed and at times terrifying performance as McGill. Unlike his brother and fellow ned Benny, John has the capacity to make a good future for himself but chooses one equal if not worse than his sibling. His deterioration is a brutal one and Mullan pulls no punches when it comes to McGill’s violent tendencies. In particular, a scene set in a graveyard goes from a clumsy teenage kiss into a savage act of violence. The sight too of McGill with kitchen knives duct taped to his hands is one that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Channelling experience from his own alcoholic father, Mullan gives an unsettling performance as John’s dad whose presence in a room is met with immediate silence and whose nightly verbal abuse of his wife are sickening. This is McCarron’s show though, his portrayal of an out of control youth is a shocking and highly convincing one, he’s equal parts intelligent, detached from reality and ruthless in attack.
It is hard though to see what the message of this film is; that anyone in the wrong environment can turn into a psychopath or that some people are just – as Mullan has stated in interviews – “a bit of a bastard”. The question is never really answered satisfactory and is ultimately left to the viewer, although some attempt is made with a final scene which certainly jumps the shark (or is that lion) a bit.