SCUM is a 1979 British Film portraying the brutality of life inside a UK borstal (prison for young offenders).
Directed by Alan Clarke, written by Roy Minton and starring Ray Winstone, Mick Ford, Julian Firth, John Blundell, Phil Daniels, Alan Igbon and Ray Burdis, it tells the story of a young offender named Carlin as he arrives at the institution, and his rise through violence and self-protection to the top of the inmates' pecking order, purely as a tool to survive. Beyond Carlin's individual storyline, it is also cast as an indictment of the borstal system's flaws. The film is violent, with a vicious male rape scene (the victim is a minor) that leads to the suicide of the victim. It features two suicides in total, many fights which are not short on realism and a large amount of racism and strong language. The warders and convicts alike are brutalised by the system. There is no attempt at rehabilitation; the inmates are simply left to their own devices.
- Released: 12th September 1979
- Company: Kendon Films
- Rating: 1979-1982 'X', later BBFC '18'
- Runtime: 98 minutes
- Language: English
- Slogan: "In Borstal, Survival Rules!"
When they arrive at the institution, they are subjected to physical and verbal abuse before being allocated their beds. While Angel and Davis are in single rooms (Angel for his race, as many of the inmates are prejudiced), Carlin is sent to a dormitory where he is ordered by Mr Sands (John Judd) to unpack his possessions and make the bed.
Carlin struggles to settle into the dormitory, having been warned by the senior officer and by highbrow inmate Archer that Banks is in the same room and has already got an eye on him, owing to Carlin's past form as a 'Daddy' in institutions. Banks has already victimised the petrified Davis in front of Carlin, and eventually attacks Carlin at night with his stooges. Carlin's black eye earns him a reprimand and solitary punishment for fighting. They also get at Angel by attacking him and trashing his cell, and Davis is tricked into borrowing a radio which is then reported stolen.
Carlin eventually settles down, choosing not to react to the provocation of Banks and his stooges until he can find the right moment. Eventually, he takes over from Banks thanks to a vicious assault on him in the bathroom, leaving him badly cut and dazed, having already smacked Richards, the main batman to Banks, with a sock containing snooker balls. The other inmates accept his new status, as do the staff - reluctantly - especially after Carlin then responds to a challenge from 'Baldy', the 'daddy' of another wing by beating him up in the boilerhouse, yet allowing him to maintain his 'daddy' status, although under his command.
Life improves for the inmates under Carlin, with the victimisation of younger, weaker prisoners coming to a halt. Carlin does, however, reduce the amount of money prisoners can keep from the notes brought in from outside, to establish his credentials. The rest of the time he is content to do his time under less pressure and enjoy Archer's company.
The atmosphere declines when Toyne receives a letter telling him his wife had died, which leads to his attempted suicide when he slashes his wrists. He dies later, after a second attempt, in Wormwood Scrubs Prison. That, and the gang rape of Davis in the greenhouse followed by the broken youngster's suicide (and ignored pleas for help from the officers), leads to a huge riot in the dining room under Carlin's direction.
The film ends with the Governor informing the prisoners of their forfeiture of privileges until the damage is paid for, and ordering one minute's silent prayer for 'our departed friend'. Nobody, at any point, is released from the institution during the film, and no ending for any inmate - aside from the two deaths - is hinted at.
The most important part of the ending is that the Governor refers to 'accidents, which happen in real life as well as inside'. He is clearly making reference to the prisoners who have been beaten by the warders. When convicts beat each other, their official explanation to authority is that 'an accident' happened. This scene is the final, brutal irony: that the system feeds back into itself, effectively silencing, cowing and brutalising both warders and prisoners under a regime which is meant to rehabilitate as well as punish, whilst providing employment supposedly for those individuals willing to support reform.
The story was originally made for the BBC's Play for Today strand in 1977. It was not shown at the time (banned), but this BBC version has since been broadcast. Two years after it was produced director Alan Clarke and scriptwriter Roy Minton remade it as a film. The film was shown on Channel 4 in 1983. By this time the borstal system had been reformatted. British public morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse initially won her court case against Channel 4 for showing the film, but Channel 4 later won on appeal.
The film differs from the original BBC production. Support cast members David Threlfall and Martin Phillips from the original are replaced with Mick Ford and Julian Firth in the film. The story was also changed. The BBC version features a homosexual relationship between Carlin and another inmate, which was dropped from the film. Minton later said that this was a pity as it would have expanded Carlin's character and made him vulnerable in an area where he could not afford to be vulnerable.
After acting in the film Ray Winstone became an in-demand actor. He had been expelled from drama school prior to the Scum auditions and had only gone along to accompany a friend. When Clarke saw Winstone, he cast him as Carlin on the spot because he liked the way he walked. The original intention had been to characterise Carlin as a Glaswegian. Other cast members Mick Ford, Julian Firth, Phil Daniels, Ray Burdis, Patrick Murray, Alan Igbon and Andrew Paul all became familiar faces in British television and film after Scum.
A Robertson's 'Golden Shred marmalade' advert can be heard on the television during the scene where Carlin orders Eckersley to stay put after the assault on Richards in the association room.