We are all familiar with the term ‘neds’ which stands for non educated deliquents, even my former French tutor was aware of this and she came from Alscace, not an area I am sure that is home to the French equilvalent of neds if there is one. Now, we all have our own perceptions of neds; my perception of them used to be the kids at school who were into football, listened to dance music and wore tracksuit bottoms. Quite a blighted perception then, considering that I liked football and still do, I also like dance music, I haven’t worn tracksuit bottoms for a long time but most importantly I never spent my time attacking teachers or robbing little old ladies, this is what separated us. This was also the time before the term ‘neds’ had caught on, I believe the term used for these kids was ‘townie’ a name which was commonoly used on the east of Scotland. Upon hearing this for the first time, I merely thought it referred to people who resided in the town – how far we have come! Nowadays the name ‘ned’ is commonplace as well as the term ‘chav’ which is used more in England. Anyway, we know these people well. It is hard to walk down any high street with coming across a ned. They can often be spotted wearing a Burberry cap, trackie bottoms and their socks tucked into the bottoms. So a film painting a sypmpathetic portrait of neds seems unfathomable.
Neds is Peter Mullan’s first film in 8 years, after the controversial film The Magadalene Sisters which explored the treatment of unmarried pregnant women at the hands of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Neds sees him return to his hometown of Glasgow for a portrait of youth gang culture and is a semi-autobiographical portrait of his misled youth. The film opens in the early seventies and our main protagonist John McGill (Connor McCarron) is a bright 11 year old just about to go to high school. John has aspirations to become and writer and go on to university. Things are looking good for John as he wins many prizes at his primary school and hopes to be in the top set at high school. However, he finds himself in the second set but vows to reach the top set. John also encounters a bully called Kanta who seems to really scare John and knocks his confidence.
The film is a typical portrait of working class life in 1970s Glasgow, John’s mother works hard as a nurse whilst his father (Peter Mullan) is a tool maker. Sadly John’s father a violent alcholic who beats and rapes his mother. John also has an older brother Benny (Joe Szula) who has already been expelled from school and a younger sister Elizabeth. John, therefore has no male role model who he can look up to which is important for a young boy growing up. The film descends into a class war when John makes friends with the middle class Julian. However, Julian’s ghastly mother disapproves of John, purely because he is a working class lad. One can’t help but feel amused when John decides to throw fireworks through their living room window after being rejected. After which John states “if you want a Ned you’ll get a Ned”. This seems to have been a turning point for John, when he realises he cannot be accepted by a middle class family. He therefore decides to start hanging about with the wrong crowd and joins a gang indulging in very violent behaviour. Although, Mullan manages to portray a sympathetic picture of John. He is merely an intelligent kid whose circumstances in life have turned him into a ned.
Neds is a very authentic film, the majority of the young actors involved never had any acting experience. The character of John’s older brother Benny also admitted to being in real life gangs when he was younger. Some have been calling this the Scottish This Is England (2006) but the language and violence in Neds makes This Is England look like an episode of Last of the Summer Wine. What the film does have in common with This Is England is the camaraderie between John and his mates, take for instance the scene when he has been beaten up by a rival gang and his old friends are the ones who save him. There are very dark undertones through the portrayal of a family in poverty with the violent patriach. Nevertheless, the film does have its humouress moments like when John is taking part in a summer club and all the children seem to all have medical conditions (one has a glass eye and it is implied that another has an STD) apart from John and Julian who become friends.
Peter Mullan is similar to Ken Loach in the sense that he is not greatly appreciated in his own country but has received great acclaim elsewhere (Neds won best film at the San Sebastian film festival in January). Mullan is also a very talented actor. He has had small but significant parts in Children of Men (2006) as refugee camp guard Syd as well as a comic routine as Alistair in the Northern Irish sitcom about the troubles Give My Head Peace. Mullan again puts in a strong performance as John’s violent father. As Mullan has been a fierce critic of the Catholic Church I thought this may have been explored in Neds. However, the film only touches on Catholicism minimally by portraying the teachers in the Catholic school as unsympathetic and apathetic. Interestinglty enough the film does not explore Sectarianism which was highly prominent in 70s Glasgow and still is today. The only reference to this is when John’s group of mates see one of their group in the special needs class: “what you doing here ya Proddy b*****d”. Do not be discouraged from watching this film because of its title, Ned is a very compelling piece of work. It is not the story of a bunch of neds running amok in Glasgow causing havoc but a thoughtful and quite insightful film into the struggles of young people living their life on the fringes of society.