by M. Faust
The title is unthreatening, even bland, especially if you’re a fan of The Simpsons. But NEDS is an acronym for “Non-Educated Delinquents,” a term used for street gangs that have afflicted urban Scotland for decades. And even that doesn’t prepare you for this disquieting, sometimes hallucinatory and often brilliant movie.
Set in the early 1970s, this is the story of John McGill, a pudgy lad from a poor family first seen graduating at the top of his class in the equivalent of junior high. An encounter with a bully fills him with dread about the new school he will start after the summer. His mother expects him to do well, certainly better than his violent older brother Benny, who has been expelled. But nothing has prepared John for the real dangers of adolescence. New teachers who have no experience of his abilities expect him to be as bad as his brother, just as Benny’s fearsome reputation is all that protects him from abuse by other students. Slowly John starts to become what is expected of him.
The writer and director is Peter Mullen, a powerful British character actor who hit his stride working with Ken Loach. Britain’s veteran chronicler of the downtrodden. Mullen had an international hit with The Magdelene Sisters, based on the true story of an Irish religious order that used unwed mothers essentially as slave labor. Mullen’s anger at the story he wanted to tell was so fierce that it often blinded his artistic instincts, resulting in an exploitative melodrama.
He’s learned a lot in the intervening years. Although parts of NEDS were inspired by his own experiences with youth gangs in Glasgow, it is not a fictionalized social documentary. It occasionally recalls both A Clockwork Orange and Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy with splashes of surreality and unexpected humor, while Conor McCarron, who stars as the teenaged John, is like a more dramatically measured version of the abused soldier played by Vincent D’Onofrio in another Stanley Kubrick film, Full Metal Jacket.
It’s a pity that this remarkable drama isn’t getting a general release in the US, but you can see it as part of the Amherst Theater’s “From Britain With Love” series, presented in conjunction with the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the UK Film Council. The 11am screening (it’s worth getting up early for) will be followed by a live broadcast including members of the cast and, hopefully, the director, who will take questions from the audience submitted via Twitter (the hashtag is #britfilm.)
Watch the trailer for NEDS
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