Filth – film reviewFilth

Directed by Jon S. Baird.

Writers: Jon S. Baird (screenplay), Irvine Welsh (novel)

Starring James MacAvoy, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell.

Released in the UK 27/9/13


Opening in a cinema near you tomorrow Filth tells the story of a bipolar, bigoted junkie cop who manipulates and hallucinates his way through the festive season in a bid to secure promotion and win back his wife and daughter. Read on to see what our man Joe Whyte thought of it.

I guess it’s worth reiterating that any cinematic (or theatrical for that matter) adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s books will always be compared to Trainspotting. That film had such a huge pop-cultural impact that it’s still felt some 20 or so years later.

Trainspotting  itself had it all; the soundtrack, the iconic poster art, the career-igniting performances from it’s largely young, unknown cast and the rip-snorting script and dialogue that took Welsh’s Edinburgh drug-addled schemies and psychos to a worldwide audience.

So, the long-awaited Filth hits the screens. Described as being “unfilmable” by many during its long gestation due to the book’s interwoven characters, surreal moments and narrative driven by a tapeworm inside main protagonist Bruce Robertson. He’s a coke-snorting, psychopathic Edinburgh detective who is attempting to secure a promotion whilst simultaneously undermining and destroying his colleagues.

The background of the plot is the brutal murder of a young Japanese tourist in a scene which tips it’s tartan bunnet to Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange in it’s underpass depiction of steel-tipped aggro; however, this seems to be forgotten almost immediately in the script and we’re left with Robertson’s rampaging character snorting and shagging his way around the seedier side of the Scottish capital. Incidentally, a lot of the scenes are actually shot in Glasgow, although you’d have to be a native to notice.

It’s not a crime story; it’s the tale of a man’s gradual mental and physical collapse and while it’s not without many, many blackly laugh-out-loud moments, it’s not one for the faint-hearted.


MacAvoy’s performance is pedal-to-the-metal at all times; as his character steadily loses grip on reality and his life spirals out of control, the sweat and brutality are virtually palpable and one can sense that MacAvoy has had a ball playing Robertson. The character in the book is older, more road-worn and absolutely repulsive; MacAvoy brings a sense of likeability to Robertson and one almost feels sympathetic to him at times. There are hints throughout the movie of Robertson having bipolar affective disorder, particularly in the hallucinogenic shots of bottles of Lithium tablets, but this is never really confirmed or denied, although by the films close and Robertson’s complete meltdown it’s difficult to see otherwise.

There are several things that hark back to Trainspotting; Shirley Henderson is a demented presence as a pals wife and at times MacAvoys to-camera cackling laugh is Ewan McGregor’s Renton all over.

There is rarely a second that MacAvoy isn’t onscreen; his manipulation and bullying of friends and colleagues is disconcerting, as is his clearly haunted past. However, some of the tripped-out, dream sequences didn’t really work for me and seemed slightly superfluous.

Filth – film reviewDirector Jon S. Baird is a relative newcomer, having cut his teeth on hooli-porn cult classic Cass, the story of ICF top boy Cass Pennant (which incidentally featured Jericho Hill drum titan Al Pritchard, hence the invitation to the screening). Baird keeps the action piling along and it’s testament to his talent that he has managed to bring this adaptation to the screen at just over 90 minutes and mostly make it work.  The squalor of Robertson’s life and the city he ghosts around in are hugely absorbing. This is no tartan and tourist Edinburgh, this is brothels, underage sex, desperation and visceral violence.

The supporting cast are superb. Jamie Bell as young wet-behind-the-ears detective Ray is excellent and brings a real niavety despite his characters love of “the ching”.  Imogen Poots is the totally professional on-the-up detective and her onscreen interactions with MacAvoy give a lovely balance between her upward mobility and his grimy decline.

Eddie Marsen plays the hen-pecked and bullied Bladesey, an Orange Lodge chum and receptacle of most of Robertson’s bile. The scenes of the two on a junket to the Reeperbahn are both appalling and hilarious at the same time.

Some of the movie’s scenes seem like shock for shocks sake; without giving too much away, much of the drugs and sex carnage is just that and seem a little “look how far we can go”.  As mentioned, the sub-plot of the murder investigations are subsumed by all of the seedy goings-on around Robertson and the denouement of that strand seems rather throwaway and fickle.

As a whole, Filth is just below the “must-see” category for me; at times it’s trying too hard and some of the scenes seem a trifle gimmicky. For all this, the director and cast have taken a difficult job and made much of  a success of it.

Don’t go to see this expecting not to be shocked; it’s called Filth, remember.

Joe Whyte

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Joe Whyte is guitarist with punk rockin' Johnny Cash tribute Jericho Hill and reformed 70's punks Reaction. He has formerly played with End Result, Reverend Snakehips Country Messiahs, God-Fearing Atheists and many, many other failed attempts at rock notoriety. Joe also writes for Vive Le Rock and Louder Than War magazine. He lives in Glasgow and in his other less glamorous life works in mental health.


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