Film Review: Filth, Or Merry Cream Of Scots

May 16, 2014



Filth / Directed by Job Baird / 16SNDLV


Irvine Welsh is a writer of no mean ability, though most of his novels have proven to be strong meat and too much for the screen to handle.  Indeed, he has been called a cult, often to his face, but that makes no never mind, because he relishes the extreme reactions that his work provokes.  Most people remember the film (and novel) of Trainspotting largely for the toilet-diving sequence and not for the many other excellent aspects, which is a shame because the shock-effect in his writing tends to overshadow his very sharp, very wise commentary on the world and the way it wags.

Filth has been knocking around since 2012, with few distributors willing to pick up on it.  I suspect it only made it to local shores as part of a package deal with some other, more saleable items. It was well received in the UK, its country of origin, but the Yanks have hated it and it has gone to limited DVD release in most other countries.  Get it here while you can.

I suspect our American friends (who will get their rocks off watching body parts explode in High Definition and slow-motion, but who come down with the screaming heebie-jeebies if matters sexual are discussed or displayed in any way other than that of male adolescent mentality) may have missed the title as a slang noun for a police force, and think it to be descriptive truth in advertising.

Yet it is about “the filth” – or one particular policeman:  James McAvoy portrays Detective Bruce Robertson, one of Edinburgh’s finest, and a very bent copper indeed.  He’s up for promotion, will brook no opposition, has a racially motivated murder to solve and lists as his more positive character traits bullying, racism, misogyny, homophobia, lying, cheating, extreme violence and some unsavoury sexual peccadilloes.  The strength of McAvoy’s performance is such that, however repellent Robertson may be, he holds our interest from start to finish.

We know McAvoy to be a fine actor, but he is clearly breaking away from his young leading man cuteness, and testing his chops with more challenging roles.  Bravo to him, for this is probably the best work he’s done since The Last King of Scotland but will bring his X-Men producers out in hives!  With a doughy body and a scabrous beard, this is no clean-cut hero for the ages.  Even his swaggering lope is loathsome, but so are most of the characters in the film, with Joanne Froggatt (late of Downton Abbey) providing the only decency and sweetness.   Incidentally, she once appeared as a teenage prostitute in an episode of The Bill and also popped up in The Last Detective and Spooks; she may possibly be working her way through screen depictions of all the synonyms for law enforcement.

Good performances all round, with notable turns from Jamie Bell and Jim Broadbent.  My colleagues at the press screening seemed to be having difficulty with the contents of their stomachs at some point, but the film is tame in comparison to the novel.  After all, Robertson has a talking tapeworm as a companion in that, but we only see a fleeting glimpse in the movie in one of the fantasy sequences that Baird uses to punctuate his tale.

So, extreme violence, blood, bodily fluids, nudity, foul language (though strong Scots accents elevate that to the realm of poetry, like Kaapse Taal) and unpleasant depictions of humanity abound, but the film is also sharp-witted, funny, absorbing and neatly executed.

Oh, and do stay for the “kiddies” animation that accompanies the end credits.  It makes a bracing counter to all the family animation we’ve seen of late and is a nice little throwback to the raunchy days of “Fritz the Cat”.