Tribeca Film Festival 2011
By Don Simpson | April 22, 2011
Director: Peter Mullan
Writer: Peter Mullan
Starring: Conor McCarron, Gregg Forrest, Louise Goodall, Joe Szula
Non-Educated Delinquents — you know the youthful ruffians who continue to infest Britain’s cities and towns, prowling around like packs of wolves, wreaking havoc upon their economically-ravaged estates. Today they are caricatured by some British media outlets as “Hoodies”, and they exemplify the nation’s evil that David Cameron and his ilk used as political leverage to overtake the Labour Party in the 2010 elections.
Writer-director Peter Mullan’s NEDS begins in Glasgow in the early 1970s, as John McGill (Gregg Forrest) graduates junior school at the top of his class. Summer comes and goes and John arrives at St. John’s only to discover, much to his visible dismay, that he has been placed in the school’s second-tier 1A2 class. The headmaster informs John that if he becomes one of the top two students in the 1A2 class come December, he will be bumped up to 1A1. John’s brutish 1A2 teacher ridicules him, challenging John’s lofty expectations of rising above the mediocrity of the 1A2 class. John also discovers that he must prove to his headmaster and teachers that he is more than just “Benny’s (Joe Szula) wee brother” — Benny terrorized (and tagged) St. John’s during his abbreviated tenure there, now he is a much feared leader of a local NED gang, the Car-D’s.
Of course, John does rise above the rest and is promoted to the 1A1 class; but, even then, his 1A1 instructors mock him. For example, when John scores a 100 per cent on a Latin exam, his teacher (Steven Robertson) teases him for being such a swot in a feeble attempt to defuse John’s classmates’ attempts of doing the same. It is that very same Latin teacher who suggests that John attend summer school in order to stay out of trouble; and that is where John befriends a teen of a much higher economic class. When John tells his new friend’s mother that he wants to attend University but does not know which subject he aspires to study, the mother pegs John as a NED and exiles him from stepping into their posh, upper class abode ever again.
Distraught from his first real encounter with the rigid class divisions of British society — and now totally friendless — John begins a slow downward spiral from a sweet and tender kid to rough and tumble hooligan. (“In the midst of life we are in debt, etc…”) John was quite obviously preordained to become a NED, and he has no choice but to devolve into one. It is not John’s unwillingness to learn that forces him to become a NED, rather it is society’s unwillingness to teach him anything other than the hard knocks.
This is as good of a time as any to discuss John’s home life. His alcoholic father (Peter Mullan) wears “abusive parent and spouse” proudly upon his booze-drenched sleeves; but the domestic violence is only ever implied by the father’s late night calls of “Get down here right now, cow!” to John’s oh-so-meek mother (Louise Goodall). The one and only advantage of being from a working class family is that John qualifies for provy checks.
So, who is to blame for John’s devolution? Mullan lines up the usual (and valid) suspects: the Catholic Church, evil school teachers, the police, teenage masculinity and rebellion, the British class/caste system, and society as a whole. There is also the allure of gang culture for friendship and protection, as well as the adrenaline rush of the chase and the fight.
Mullan has admitted that some of the scenes in NEDS are adapted from his own personal experiences, which lends a certain authenticity to the film. Visually and dramatically, NEDS owes a lot to British neo-realism (a.k.a. kitchen sink cinema); too bad the plot is so purposefully and predictably structured. NEDS also focuses way too much on the male perspective — the females are given very little to do or say, lending them a very mannequin-like existence. Most frustrating, however, is Mullan’s pathetic foray into the overt dramatization of Catholic guilt, with the hallucinogenic vision (as a result of sniffing glue) of a crucified Christ coming alive and beating some sense into John. (It was not without irony that I watched NEDS so close to Easter.)