Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Lenny and Peter Mullan with Graeme Robertson.
On Saturday evening at a packed and attentive Robert Burns Film Theatre director, actor and Marxist Peter Mullan told the following wee story “ Two boys had watched a street fight involving two older boys, the one that the youngsters supported lost the fight, the winner took umbrage with the lads and chased them, catching up with one of them he beat him to death with a brick” The director pointed out that at a time when street gangs and knife crime are a major concern this was not today’s headline’s but an incident that happened over a hundred years ago in 1893! Giving this example placed the tonight’s movie in prospective that violence and gangs were nothing new and that today’s society could not be held to blame for these problems: they go back many years.

Although Peter Mullan’s day job is an actor, Saturday night’s film is his third as a director. His first full length feature was Orphans (1998) but his best known film to date was his second directorial outing The Magdalene Sisters (2002) a controversial look at life in an Irish Magdalene Asylum which gave a home to women who were labeled as “fallen” by their families or society. This film won Mullan a Golden Lion award at the Venice film festival.

Neds (2011) set in Glasgow in 1972, involves one John McGill who we first meet making his mum and aunt proud at the primary school prize giving. But it’s not long before we see this young intelligent boy joining his elder brother Benny, who was expelled from school for threatening behavior, on the street’s running with the same Neds (Non Educated Delinquents) Both brothers share the same loving, but repressed, mother and the same drunken bully of a father. Mullan's latest film reveal’s that its not just family life that effects Johns social awareness but the authorities, in the familiar guise of strap welding school teachers, who seem intent on punishing John McGill because he has that rare commodity: a brain. This type of punishment exhibits violence as power, something the working class youth of the council schemes accept as normal. A nod to Kubrick’s 1971 Clockwork Orange? This gut- wrenching, disturbing and somewhat unsettling portrait of 1970’s youth shows, quite powerfully, how the system fails to protect or encourage the John McGill’s of this world. I am aware that the director will probably not agree, but would place his film squarely in the tradition of British social realism.

Darren Conner talks to the director.
In the supremely enjoyable discussion that followed between our very own Darren Conner, Peter Mullan, his brother Lenny and stills photographer Graeme Robertson. Peter explained that although the movie was not autobiographical it was personnel, admitting that his early school years were very similar to those of the main character but stating that a good percentage of the story was fictional although based on reports he had read in the newspapers. Lenny, who was the film casting director, made very clear that most of the young cast were non-professional and a work shop process allowed him to pick those with an attitude he deemed correct for the roles that brother Peter had written. Encouraging input from the young cast gave a real sense of spontaneity to the script and some very natural performances. Most of these youngsters Lenny admitted could go on to a career in the acting profession. It was only when Lenny failed to secure an appropriate actor to fill the part of the father that Peter Mullan agreed to play this part, with some trepidation because the character was similar to his own father. An 18 certificate was awarded because of the youth and knife crime mix; this certification caused some consternation to our guests because it would not be seen by the audience it was targeted at. Financing was discussed, money coming from the now defunct UK Film Council, Scottish Screen and the life blood of British independent film, Europe. Internationally the film would have to have subtitles added because of the strong accents something that was not objected to by our Glasgow born director.

It was great evening, interesting and entertaining being expertly chaired during the Q&A by Darren and I would congratulate him. I wonder who he will tackle next. Thanks must be extended to our guests whose humour and honesty were well received. Don’t forget to check out the RBC YTube channel for a chance to sample this great evening.

One for the family album.

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