NEDs was the second film I was able to see as a part of the From Britain with Love series, I will be seeing and reviewing a third on DVD. NEDs stands for Non-Educated Delinquents and is a tale takes places in 1970s Glasgow. It’s also interesting to note that due to the naturalistic way in which the actors speak it has been distributed to English-speaking countries around the world complete with subtitles.
This film tells the story of John McGill at two ages (ten and sixteen) and is a tale of how a studious, intelligent boy is bullied and ultimately pushed to make a decision he can either continue to bear the brunt of it or he can become one of the NEDs who used to make his life miserable. It’s a film that does have its share of dramatic moments and good scenes but is ultimately a bit too uneven to be truly successful.
The definition of an antihero states that one is an antihero who does not possess the typical attributes of a heroic character. Therefore you clearly in this film have one, however, for a film with an antihero to be truly successful there must be at least identification if not empathy with the character. There have been likable antiheroes but clearly that is not a necessity. What is necessary is that ability to stand in the character’s shoes for the entirety of the journey if at any point you lose that feeling that you are willing to accompany them, or are not at least somewhat interested in what happens to them, then the film has lost you, thus failed.
To accomplish this the protagonist ought reach a Point of Potential Return and be forced anew to choose, if their path is dark and/or seemingly irredeemable, but the character ought not reach a point of No Return as John does in this film, especially if the decision is entirely their own. Not to deal entirely in absolutes but it just makes it a more difficult road to traverse as an identifiable story and you may note that the most successful antiheroes are those who have passed that Point of No Return before the beginning of the tale a great example would be The Man Without a Name played by Clint Eastwood. We don’t know what his past is only his current situation(s) and we know that by hook or by crook he will try and do what’s right/makes the most sense. True it usually involves compromising principle and screwing people over but it’s generally to dupe someone who is far more nefarious than he is.
What you get in this film is a complete and total implosion of character and personal potential and you only get rare glimpses at the collateral damage he does and the impact he truly has on others. Whereas John starts as a rather complicated character he slowly strips away all encumbrances that might prevent him from fully investing in his newfound identity as a NED.
That massive tangent is not to say the film doesn’t have its merit, it definitely does. There are scenes and sequences that work without question, however, when one’s major issue is of such a fundamental nature it deserves a full explication. I’ll also be the first to admit that this film more than many is subjective. Some may view it and find it powerful and I want to stress that my disengaging from the film is not because I want everything to be saccharine, I have enjoyed films like City of God and Sleepers which are heavy movies that can be depressing but there is that connection there that keeps you invested.
The performance of Greg Forrest, as the younger version of John, is quite good but perhaps a bit shorter than it should’ve been. Conor McCarron does well and has a much more difficult task. What’s seen of John’s homelife despite a good performance by Peter Mullan, also the film’s writer and director, doesn’t truly illuminate anything except that John has no refuge.
The benefit of this series of films is that there were typically Q&A sessions with the directors of the films and it became clear that Mullan did succeed in getting what he wanted so it really is a question of the degree to which a protagonist can be disliked and still have the film succeed and of a philosophical stance more than anything else.
Ultimately, while I cannot say I enjoyed the film it was thought-provoking and occasionally very stirring and I do encourage you to see it if this has piqued your interest.