Neds – powerful gangs of Glasgow film review
Neds is a brilliant depiction of early seventies Glasgow street life says John Robb
Tough, sometimes brutal, often funny ”ËNeds’ is a brilliant depiction of seventies Glasgow youth caught in the turmoil of the times. Knife wielding gangs battle it out whilst John McGill is a shy, swotty kid caught in the middle.
With an alcoholic, abusive father and a delinquent brother, John doesn’t stand a chance and his slide from the bright eyed, prize winning swot at primary school to the knife wielding nutter at the film’s end is brilliantly depicted by writer and director Peter Mullan whose own youth in South Glasgow is what the film is based on.
Set in a stifling and grubby 1972 that is perfectly captured along with the thrill of wincingly painful violence, Neds is brilliantly colloquial with unapologetic Glaswegian accents.
Mullen examines the tribes and the blood ties that have us trapped- whether its class, the family or the gang- the ancient clans updated to the claustrophobic concrete of Glasgow.
The bullied John enters the main school with threats whispered in his ear for his plum faced swottiness by a bully. He fails to make the expected top class because of his brother’s pervious misdemeanants. The school itself is as dismal as any in the seventies- antiquated classrooms, chain smoking teachers oozing a world weary inadequacy surrounded by the bad hair and flapping flares of the decade. It’s no place for a sensitive soul and McGill is swiftly ostracised for his bookish ways before being barred from his best friend’s posh house by a snobbish mother and as a lost soul hooks up with the local gang who initially bully him before realising that his older brother is the local gang leader psychopath and then embrace him.
The violence escalates as McGill enacts revenge on the bullies- including one shocking scene where he throws a slab on one bully’s head before standing up to his abusive father. Out of control his violence becomes too much for even the gang and he is ostracised by his school, the gang and even his family and reduced to sleeping rough and sniffing glue. Tripped out on glue he is mesmerised by a Jesus figure whose outstretched arms even hint at casual violence and imagines a fight to the death with the good lord.
The film’s ending is a classic sequence. McGill tapes knives to each hand to walk into the heart of darkness of the rival gang and stabs the gang leader in a blur of violence is reminiscent of Taxi Driver and is darkly and powerfully effective. The final, following scene is emotive and offers some sense of redemption.
Neds is a great film with the casual violence and petty hatred and the claustrophobia of the crumbling seventies, council estate concrete and is perfectly played out and brilliantly acted. Conor McCarron, who never acted before, is perfect as the older teenage McGill playing the part like the young Ray Winstone in Scum but retaining a boyish bookishness. The rest of the cast are also first time actors and are utterly convincing in their roles.
A perfect depiction of a tough times that echoes in the random violence of modern times- angry, visceral, and full of with testosterone Neds is a far deeper film than a hooligan romp- this is a study of the power of friendship and is powerfully touching in parts and also comes with a killer soundtrack from Trex to the Sparks that evokes the nicotine stained decade that now seems like a hundred years ago.