Film review: Starred Up

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Jack O'Connell and cast at the Starred Up Gala Screening
Jack O'Connell and cast at the Starred Up Gala Screening. Credit: Sting Media

Credit: James Gilham at Sting Media.

Starred Up, the latest film by David MacKenzie, certainly defies expectations as a poignant exploration of a father-son relationship.

Shot sequentially in two prisons, the title references young people who are upgraded to adult prison because of their extremely violent behaviour. Debut screenwriter Jonathan Asser based the film on his experience of being a voluntary psychotherapist at HM Prison Wandsworth.

Jack O'Connell
Jack O’Connell at the Gala screening. Credit: James Gilham at Sting Media

Jack O’Connell tackles the role of 19-year-old offender Eric Love with a fresh and gritty exuberance. Best known for his role as James Cook in E4 drama Skins, he’s not shy about pushing himself into places most would shy away from.

He perfectly complements the nuanced performance of Ben Mendelsohn as Eric’s father Neville. The mutual agony at their failed relationship is the most remarkable aspect of the film. Their brashness is a stark contrast with the softly-spoken leader of the anger management group, Oliver, played in a wonderfully understated manner by Rupert Friend.

Starred Up feels like a testosterone-fuelled documentary from inside a prison; perhaps it’s a little too clichéd. However, there are flickers of humour amid the darkness. The story is beautifully told visually, and the minimal dialogue allows you to focus on the physical aspects of the prisoners.