Screened in competition for Best British Film at the BFI London Film Festival 2013, Starred Up was a film I knew very little about but had high expectations for, and it didn’t disappoint.
We are introduced to the lead character Eric Love, portrayed by Jack O’Connell (Skins, This is England), who has been “starred up” from a young offenders’ institution to a jail for adults for excessive violence. As the story develops, we go on a personal journey with him as he struggles to deal with the fact he is no longer the king pin in his new home.
Helping him on his journey is prison therapist Oliver, played brilliantly by Rupert Friend (Homeland). He builds up a close relationship with both him and several fellow inmates also going through the therapy sessions. It is in these sessions that we begin to learn a different side to our protagonist, one that he hides from everyone else he comes into contact with in the prison.
The twist in the tale lies in the fact Eric’s father is also incarcerated in the same jail, and this is where his struggle lies. He is finally able to spend time with his father, but cannot cope with the fact that in spite of all the larger inmates and all the guards, the one person who has control over him is the one that he blames for being in prison in the first place. It is this dynamic that really allows O’Connell to flex his acting muscles, and show he can play much more than the jack-the-lad tough guy. As an actor, he has a serious amount of talent on offer and at such a young age must feel like the world is his to take on.
Much of the praise for the successes the film enjoys must go to screenwriter Jonathan Asser. Asser won the LFF Best British Newcomer award for this film, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s an authentic and intelligent script that draws on his own personal experiences and it ensures that what could have been a run-of-the-mill prison drama becomes much more than that – a study of an individual’s struggle against authority and personal responsibility.
Starred Up is released in UK cinemas on 21st March 2014.