We Got All Happy Fancy And Went To The Tribeca Film Festival To See ‘Starred Up’

The British like their beer warm, their tea milky, and their men hard. Tough guys like Robert Carlyle as Francis Begbie in Trainspotting (1996), Ben Kingsley as Don Logan in Sexy Beast (2000), and Jason Statham or Ray Winstone in just about anything. If you look at these guys funny, they’ll call you a fookin’ cunt, knock you over the head with a pint glass, and kick you in the face until their mates pull them away.


Our latest Brit badass is Eric Love, played by Jack O’Connell in director David Mackenzie’s Starred Up. Too much of a malcontent for juvenile hall, Eric has been ‘starred up’ to the big league pokey or borstal or whatever the hell the Brits call prison these days. In no time at all, he’s launching the most insanely vicious attacks against both prison guards and fellow prisoners. Not for any apparent reason – he just wants a laugh.


Of course, this rubs certain people the wrong way. The guards and the prisoners have some sort of drug dealing operation going on, and the constant lock-downs due to Eric’s outbursts are throwing a spanner into the works. Someone must stop him – but who? The prison shrink, played by Rupert Friend? Probably not. The Jewish prison shrink archetype has already been parodied in Raising Arizona (1987). Or will it be Ben Mendelsohn as tough guy Neville, who seems to have some secret hold on the lad? Or one of the guards?


Shot in 24 days in a defunct Irish prison that looks like it came out of a Dickens novel, Starred Up is dramatic, suspenseful, and brutal. Jack O’Connell, who you may remember from seasons 3 and 4 of Skins, playing a mischievous lad, or from This is England, playing a Skin, is all growed up now. He has already turned into either a fine actor, or a scary motherfucker, it’s hard to say which.

The only problem with the movie is a moral hole at its center. After witnessing Eric’s vicious attacks, and his lack of interest in the consequences, it’s difficult to care whether or not he is rehabilitated in group therapy. He’s so unpredictable and brutal that it’s hard not to be on Team Corrupt Guards.

At any rate, director David Mackenzie gets two years taken off his sentence for directing this, Jonathan Asser gets three packs of biscuits delivered to his cell for writing, and actor Jack O’Connell gets an extra pouch of tobacco and a restraining order for starring.

David Mackenzie (with producer Gillian Berrie) directorsplains Starred Up to an audience

David Mackenzie (with producer Gillian Berrie) directorsplains Starred Up to an audience

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