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Film Review: Starred Up

Posted on by Janet Awe
Jack O'Connell as Eric

Jack O’Connell as Eric

Bold. Brash. Violent. Vulgar. Frightening. Funny. Jaw dropping. Gut wrenching.

Bloody brilliant.

Starred Up takes gritty realism to a whole other level. It had me cowering in my seat. Laughing out loud. Jumping from shock. And at one point not-so-silently praying that what I was witnessing wasn’t really about to happen.

Seen at the London Film Festival, back in October 2013 – and getting its general release in the UK today – this absolutely outstanding film totally topped ten days in which I’d seen some real corkers.

19 year old Eric Love is transferred from a juvenile detention centre to an adult prison – two years before he should really be sent. He’s ‘starred up’, meaning his file is marked, due to his violent behaviour. And from the moment he arrives it’s clear his card is marked as well. What happens next takes us on a roller coaster of emotions.

Jack O'Connell & Ben

Jack O’Connell as Eric & Ben Mendelsohn as Nev

We were really lucky that both the director, David McKenzie, and the writer, Jonathan Asser were there to do a Q&A after our screening. Before seeing the film, I’d read that it had been based on Jonathan’s time as a prison councillor. After seeing the film, there are no words to express my admiration at his writing. He truly has turned his work experience into an amazing film experience for us all. He’s managed to combine humour with downright horror and, somehow, still leave a glimmer of hope – all whilst confronting us full-on with the very worst of what we imagine goes on in our institutions. It feels like it’s been written with truth and compassion. And despite the machismo, vulgarity and violence, it still manages to have real moments of tenderness.

Jack O’Connell is outstanding as Eric. Whilst Ben Mendelsohn as his dad, Nev, and Sam Spruell as Governor Hayes, are totally brilliant, too. In fact, it’s a great cast – and an extremely interesting one, as some of the parts are played by Jonathan Asser’s ex prison patients.

During the Q&A, someone asked McKenzie if he’d studied the film Scum in perpetration for directing Starred Up. The answer was no. And I was glad. Whilst it’s natural to make such comparisons, it would be too easy to dismiss this as just a modern day wannabe. That wouldn’t do it justice. Starred Up stands tall by itself.

Go and see it.

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