Peter Mullan’s third directorial feature sees him revisit his youth. As a teenager he was involved in one of the gangs that existed in South Glasgow in the 70s. NEDS is a fictional story based around those experiences.
NED, for those of you not from Scotland, stands for Non Educated Delinquent. It can be thought of as fairly interchangeable with the word ‘Chav’, or what our American cousins might call ‘White Trash’. Although arguably ‘NED’ has more thuggish implications associated with it that these other two terms.
The film itself begins with its main character, John, starting high school. Having succeeded academically at his primary, he is at first keen to do well. However, one summer this all changes. Having befriended a middle class boy during the holidays, he is soon told by his friend’s mother to stay away from the house. This snub leads him to befriending a local gang. His older brother’s reputation giving him the respect he needs to be accepted.
What follows is a spiral of violence and disillusionment as John discovers just how easy it is to hurt someone and get away with it. Fans of The Wire will see in John, a similarity to Michael from season four. They share an intelligence but inscrutability that makes them impossible to predict. Newcomer Conor McCarron should be given a lot of character for creating a character capable of conveying so many different emotions over the course of the film.
Peter Mullan is a man clearly influenced by another great director of British social realism, Ken Loach. The two worked together on My Name Is Joe. Fans of the latter movie will note that all of its four main actors appear in one form or another in NEDS.
Admirers of Ken Loach will feel right at home in Mullan’s NEDS, with its sympathetic but painful look at working class life. It is a grim, uncompromising film that constantly asks questions of its audience.
While NEDS is undoubtedly successful in showing a teen’s growing addiction to gang violence, it is ground that has been covered before in other excellent films (e.g. City of God). As such, I would argue its greatest strength is in its portrayal of John’s family. With a mother desperate, but unable to help him; an abusive, alcoholic father (played by Mullan himself); and a brother who John holds in high esteem; it was these interactions I found to be the most interesting.
Almost certainly based on Mullan’s own upbringing, there is a presence and terror to his portrayal of John’s father, I found deeply troubling and unsettling. As such, it was the issues raised by the familial interactions, rather than within the gang, I have found myself thinking about since seeing the film.
NEDS is a film deeply routed in a tradition of films of its ilk set in Glasgow. Sweet Sixteen, My Name Is Joe, and Ratcatcher being a few recent examples. It represents a world fair removed from what we normally see in Hollywood blockbusters, and people who like to see movies as a form of escapism, should probably avoid it. NEDS represents the opposite of escapism; films that force us to confront the realities of the world we live in, and the problems we wish we could ignore.
For those of you who are interested, this interview with Peter Mullan is a great insight into the things in NEDS which are based on his own troubled experiences growing up: