20th Century Boy: A Review of “Non Educated Delinquents” (N.E.D.S) (2010)
“Non Educated Delinquents” or alternatively “N.E.D.S” (2010) is a film that provoked some thoughts in me regarding class, society and youth. It is classed as a British film but it is also a Scottish film that is set in Glasgow following the story of the bright, intelligent John McGill’s (initially played by Greg Forrest, then Conor McCarron for the majority of the film) downward spiral into gang violence and knife crime during the 1970’s; it is written and directed by Peter Mullan, who had a small role in the film as John’s drunken father. The concept of the plot isn’t an original idea and slightly echoed Shane Meadows’s “This Is England” (2006) for me; however as previously stated the film gave an intense and interesting insight into how society can influence a person or drive them into a life of aggression, violence and desperation.
The narrative of the film consists of the theme of expectation; John’s character faces a lot of that in his life, from being top of his class at school, it is put upon him to excel by his teachers and mother; but on the other hand he is torn in terms of living up to his brother Benjamin’s (played by Joe Szula) legendary violent behaviour. I found John a very complex character and I was in limbo concerning whether I had empathy for him or not or whether he was even a redeemable character, for example, realistically there are no justifiable reasons for some of his actions; its a fact of life we are all going to come across people who dislike us or insult us but is that a reason to bash their brains in? On the other hand I found the attack on his abusive, alcoholic father to an extent justifiable as it could be argued he was protecting the rest of his family. I think this made his character interesting and different from a lot of characters we see on screen today as he’s not quite the “anti-hero”. I believe part of his motive for violence lies in rejection, whether its not being accepted by his school friend’s mother because of his brother’s reputation or the fact he only is who he is because of that and wouldn’t matter without that violent reputation surrounding him. I also wondered whether the way school’s used to function back in the 1970’s and prior to then with discipline, strict rules and punishment affected and later influenced people to rebel and if violence back then was learnt because of that environment e.g. the cane. Also do the classes at school and level’s of intelligence people are labelled with lead to this type of behaviour?Perhaps if people aren’t challenged enough they may become bored or even if they are considered to be less bright than others could influence delinquent behaviour as indicated in “N.E.D.S”.
I found the violence in the film both shocking but also subtle. I liked how the camera cut away from the violent moments in order for the audience to make up their own minds about the brutality, rather than viewing it first hand; always a very effective tactic in cinema. The story was strong and realistic; and as an audience it provoked the question of can we share empathy for a character who seems to show no remorse for his actions? The problem with the film for me was the pace being a bit slow and towards the end of the film and the story didn’t seem to know where it was heading, there was a lot that could have been cut. I did hope that John would redeem himself and choose the path of education for his future, this was suggested in scene’s such as him attending a support group for the homeless and giving a school another go by working his way up from the bottom; however these scenes were conflicting with scenes of him still carrying out acts of violence, indicating no further character development and by this point the violence seemed tired and overdone. The film just didn’t seem to conclude or know when to stop. In many British films I am used to ambiguous, “audience decides for themselves” endings such as in “The Scouting Book for Boys” (2009) so the fact this film went down that path didn’t surprise me, I suppose the ending was meant to be symbolic demonstrating the fearlessness of John’s character but I would have preferred a stronger conclusion to the film with maybe John coming to terms with the aftermath of his actions; then again this is not a Disney fairytale with a “happy ever after” or is it a Hollywood movie-style ending, it is true British grit.
I would recommend this film for its honest portrayal of certain sections of real-life Britain (or Scotland), good direction and performances even though it does get a little lost at times; but if you’re looking for gritty British realism, similarly to Ken Loach and Shane Meadows then this is the film for you.
Hayley Alice Roberts.