No bars on the gritty realism in jail drama

Starred Up with Jack O Connell playing Eric. Photo: PA Photo/Fox UK Film
Starred Up with Jack O Connell playing Eric. Photo: PA Photo/Fox UK Film

The sins of a jailbird father are revisited upon an embittered son in David Mackenzie’s gritty drama.

Based on screenwriter Jonathan Asser’s experiences as a prison therapist, Starred Up pulls few punches in its depiction of life behind bars, delivering a flurry of beatings as characters jostle for supremacy inside crumbling walls where everyone can hear you scream.

Squeamish audiences are sentenced to their worst nightmare: a journey into an unforgiving world where disputes are settled with a slash from a makeshift shank fashioned from a toothbrush and razor blade.

Prisoner officers are just almost as cold-blooded as the offenders in their care, meting out violence to keep troublesome inmates in line. If all else fails, ringleaders are strung up from the bars of cells – their deaths falsely attributed to suicide.

Belfast’s disused Crumlin Road jail provides a suitably claustrophobic setting and Mackenzie’s cameras explore every nook and cranny.

At the centre of madness is 19-year-old repeat offender Eric (Jack O’Connell), who swaggers into his first adult prison as if he owns the joint.