Ever since his directorial debut Orphans in 1997, Peter Mullan's uncompromising films have been critically acclaimed. His latest, Neds, a coming-of-age tale set in early 70s Glasgow, is released on 21 January 2011.
At the story's core is an intelligent youth who finds himself torn between two worlds: his potential to excel at school, and the dangerous allure of his city's tribalism. Interviewed in Skinny, Mullan underscored the importance of setting the film at a time when he was undergoing his own formative experiences, when gang culture was rife in Glasgow's peripheral estates.
Termed 'reservations' by the working-class families decanted to them from the inner city's run-down and Luftwaffe-damaged tenements in the 50s and 60s, these were vast areas with Fife-like populations, but stripped bare of amenities by government planners. Community spirit was one of the first major casualties of the mass uprooting. The territorial gangs retained their names while creating new boundaries to guard.
Gang violence has blighted all Britain's cities for years. Gillies MacKinnon's 1995 film Small Faces, 'Best British Film' winner at that year's Edinburgh Festival, introduced a wider audience to antisocial Glaswegian teenagers like the Tongs. (Although Small Faces was set in the 60s, some of these gang names have been handed down through the generations since the Victorian era).
Mullan's choice of the 70's allows him to view the subject with a detachment, avoiding being drawn into unnecessary detail about contemporary youth culture (a minefield of potential stylistic and musical reference niggles). It also gives a freer reign for his trademark surrealism.
During the interview Mullan defended his use of fantasy sequences (some English critics were less than complimentary). He stated: "(Social realism) is not our tradition, it's England's … the English look at film differently from any other country".
While English directors such as Mike Leigh can display an almost fanatical approach to social realism, there are many exceptions. Two syllables. Shameless.
Channel 4's BAFTA-winning expose of life on a Manchester council estate is currently in its 8th series since 2004 (and has recently been sold to the US). Shameless also portrays criminal gangs but is rooted firmly in 2011. It manages to grasp contemporary issues by the bollocks and twist until they're screaming with pain or laughter in equal measure. Each episode captures British life in a microcosm – love, death, family, religion, sex, aspiration, despair, drugs, the black economy.
It depicts working class people of all faiths and racial backgrounds struggling against snobbery, petty bureaucracy, misogyny, homophobia. Somehow it frequently manages to teeter between Viz-level black humour and Shakespearian depth. At its core is flawed Frank Gallagher (flawlessly played by David Threlfall), an urban poet for the 21st century. Some of his drug-fuelled tirades against injustice are a thousand times more heartfelt than any of the New Labour manifestos poked through his door (to wind up as roaches). And he is also the usual suspect for one of the other signatures of Shameless - marvellously surreal (often chemically-induced) interludes.
Last Friday's saw him in a pub toilet being addressed by himself inside a 7 foot penis costume! He had previously experienced an alien exploding from his stomach. And being dressed as Dr Who while being stalked by a Cyberman/woman version of his fiancée. That same episode included a gangland murder, displaying just how successfully Shameless twists the tangible with irreverence and lunacy.
The result of NEDS v Shameless? Score draw, obviously.