Starred Up (2013)
Prison films coming out of production in Ireland is a thing of plenty. As Northern Ireland’s political history tells, there’s a fair amount of fantastic locations for a production like this to set up in. It’s no surprise that the recently opened to the public Belfast Crumlin Road Jail features heavily in the sets and layout of this claustrophobic and violent drama. The developing film industry of Northern Ireland is privy to a treasure trove of amazing locations and Starred Up is certainly resourceful in its good use of the prison environment.
Eric is wonderfully performed, and played by a bright and rising star in Jack O’Connell of TV series Skins fame. Gritty and forceful, the character story of Eric will hold its grip on a shaken mindset for a long time to come.
As the narrative isn’t set in the political landscape of Northern Ireland I’ve no instant cause for alarm or caution in approaching the drama. Being a citizen of said country and seeing so many violent and political based dramas, alarm bells always ring when I hear about a prison drama being shot on location in Belfast. This attitude largely derives from the hugely dramatised and often insensitive representations of the period of history known as ‘the troubles’ by large budget productions. Understandably, it’s a dense part of history with many faces, but I feel the previous examples of dramatising events for entertainment value hugely demeans those involved, or as such involuntarily caught up in the trauma of extreme political violence. Most recently Steve McQueen’s award winning feature Hunger (2008) dramatised the hunger strike protests by political activist prisoners in Northern Ireland. It’s a fantastic film of disturbing content, but it’s shifting somewhat in the direction of a more realistically weighted dramatisation. Where this leaves my thoughts on the production of Starred Up is a collection of extremely positive ones. The drama itself doesn’t rely on a specific location setting to hinder the narrative, it’s simply placed within the UK prison system and rightfully expressed, it could happen within any global prison environment.
Thrilling and isolating, the atmosphere of the narrative is bold. Eric, a young man who is ‘starred up’ as a high risk prisoner for violent crimes, is abruptly forced to come of age in an adult prison. Meeting his match in his father Neville, Eric’s impossibly hard lifestyle renders him a misfit when he is used to being a powerhouse and in control. Having lived so long without anybody telling him who he is or what to do, Eric’s reactions to parental authority is shocking and beyond what the standard prison drama develops. Eric is wonderfully performed, and played by a bright and rising star in Jack O’Connell of TV series Skins fame. Gritty and forceful, the character story of Eric will hold its grip on a shaken mindset for a long time to come. The relationship trials and tribulations are shatterproof in their placements. Dotted throughout the feature with downplayed subtlety, the hyper violent moments of gut wrenching releases of emotions are masculine and unforgiving in their instantaneous progressions of fear factor.
Serving the purpose of intensifying the narrative scenarios, the tight angles, handheld feel tracking shots and small room long shots demonstrate the sense of ‘these four walls that hold me in’ more colourfully than I’ve ever seen.
The aesthetic qualities of the film chalk it up as an original drama set in a prison. The progressive use of space in the camera frame gives perfect dramatic tension when required most. Serving the purpose of intensifying the narrative scenarios, the tight angles, handheld feel tracking shots and small room long shots demonstrate the sense of ‘these four walls that hold me in’ more colourfully than I’ve ever seen. Cold and desolate, the framing of the cells embrace a sense of loneliness. As the plot thickens and violence ensues, the same frames give way to shock and panic as trapped sensations close in. True to cause, the physicality of the prison climate seems natural here. As the cellmates move around the buildings the areas transform as the dialogue and actions of characters set and reset the mood. Prepare to be inescapably enveloped by the events that unfold before your eyes.
[notification type=”star”]85/100 ~ GREAT. Prepare to be inescapably enveloped by the events that unfold before your eyes.[/notification]