Review – Starred Up

Poster for 2014 prison drama Starred Up

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 18
UK Release Date: 21st March 2014
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Jonathan Asser
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell
Synopsis: A young offender must deal with the different dynamic of an adult prison when he is transferred, living under the watchful eye of his brutal convict father.



The prison drama is a staple of blokey machismo at the movies. From Scum (gruelling and intense) to Green Street 2: Stand Your Ground (just gruelling), just about every muscleman in history has spent time in the clink. But there are few, if any, who can best Skins alumnus Jack O’Connell’s turn in the instant Brit classic Starred Up.

Eric Love (O’Connell) is a violent young offender who is deemed too dangerous for his fellow youths and moved to an adult nick that also houses his father Nev (Ben Mendelsohn). He very quickly makes an impact with his fellow inmates, a sinister guard (Sam Spruell) and the calm prison therapist Ol (Rupert Friend).

Starred Up might be the best British movie since Paddy Considine’s harrowing 2011 drama Tyrannosaur. It’s unflinchingly brutal, darkly hilarious and acted as well as any film in 2014 so far.

| "So this is where you open up to me and build trust?"

Central to the film’s success is the outstanding central performance from Jack O’Connell. His character is a multi-faceted, complex being who couldn’t be further away from the generic hardman stereotype that usually ends up in the cinematic clink. He is capable of moving from calmly assembling a shiv in his room to crunching on a guard’s testicles in a matter of moments.

It’s a masterful performance that showcases a perfect balance between control and anarchy. It is this balance that forms the beating heart at the centre of Starred Up. Harnessing his real experience as a prison therapist, writer Jonathan Asser creates a delicate mixture of the bizarre dynamics of machismo and homoeroticism at play in a penal environment.

Asser’s script initially seems like a blizzard of four-letter epithets, but has hidden subtlety as it explores the shifting relationships and unsaid threats. There is a constant cloud of tension hanging over Starred Up that imbues every moment with real dramatic power.

| "Starred up means you’re a leader."

Alongside O’Connell’s feral display, great supporting performances from a chaotic Ben Mendelsohn and a composed Rupert Friend anchor the more mature side of the film.

The prison film is a genre ripe with predictability, but Starred Up always keeps its audience guessing from start to finish. It is a real success of a movie that showcases everything we’ve come to expect from the ‘Brit Grit’ genre.


Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Boasting a bravura performance from star of the future Jack O’Connell, Starred Up is the reinvigorating adrenaline shot that the prison genre needs.

With violence and drama in equal measure, the film is a solid meditation on the inner workings of a jail based on the experiences of a writer who knows how to ground the film in reality.

If you see one British movie this year, make it this one.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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