Prison Pairs #3: Everyday and Starred Up
We move now from rollicking entertainment to grim and slow-moving but fascinating social realism. Everyday gives us Jon Simm as a father-of-three who’s been banged up for five years. Filmed over a real time period of the same length, the film achieves an unrivalled sense of authenticity, crafting a study of a jail-stretch that is all about time. Director Michael Winterbottom nails the prison atmosphere of dismal routine and deathly boredom. Visits are important: Shirley Henderson plays the shattered and careworn mother who is forced to drag the kids through the various torments of public transport to see their dad, and as the film jumps forward in time, we see them age and get a moving insight into the suffering and frustration of the family. An unspectacular film devoid of tough-guy bravado and most of the usual stereotypes, Everyday probably comes closer, for all we know, than any other British film to capturing something of what doing a long stretch is really like.
While films like Kidulthood (2006) and Offender (2012) showed us, on the surface, something about the lost and chaotic inner city generation now filling the prisons, they were too superficial to provide much in the way of depth or insight. But Starred Up is the real deal; it’s the best UK prison movie we’ve seen in years, because it delivers exactly what the aforementioned films failed to: a close-up portrait of a young man born into a chaotic dysfunctional world and going nowhere fast, except further into an overloaded prison system that seems to be constantly under threat of breaking down.
The next thing to say is that Jack O’Connell’s performance as Eric Love, a near-feral, inarticulately furious kid driven by vengeful or defensive violence and little else, is as good as it gets. The violence, when it comes as it must in the dog-eat-dog world in which he’s always lived, is brutally compelling and realistic. But it is the young man’s slow, uneven, uncertain and always quickly-reversible development of towards maturity – or at least some sort of emotional equilibrium – that carries the film; the best scenes take place in the prison therapy group he finds himself in, which is full of outwardly hard but inwardly brittle, unstable, emotionally damaged young men like himself, doing their best stabilize themselves and grow but always on the verge of losing control. We won’t give any more away about the plot. This is an instant classic of the genre, Jack O’Connell is a star, do not miss it if you’re even half-way interested in these films.