I didn’t catch Starred Up in the cinema because I pigeonholed it, dismissing it without giving it a chance. I labelled it as something it was not, judged it on first impressions and as a result missed out on something very promising and rewarding. All of this is deeply ironic, as it is the exact same ignorantly unfair treatment of young people that is very much at the heart of the film. Just as many people nowadays label troubled youth as problematic from an early age and deny them the very compassion, empathy and understanding that they need to thrive, I initially thought this was a bog-standard British prison film, the sort you would see Danny Dyer in, seemingly glorifying an odd kind of working class violence that was popular in the 80s and rapidly became saturated and dull in the late-90s splurge of Guy Ritchie imitators.

What this proves to be instead is a thematically ambitious, meticulously researched and finely performed drama of maturity and social conscience. The screenwriter Jonathan Asser had spent time working as a therapist for some of the UK’s most violent criminals, and this gives the film an unprecedented level of realism and eye for detail. While it doesn’t entirely escape several prison cliches, you can’t help but feel they’re cliches for the very good reason that they’re common occurrences within prisons, and therefore not out of place. Asser also employs a very effective father-son dynamic within his script, lending proceedings an air of Greek tragedy, and providing a surprisingly personal element alongside the wider sociological examination the films delves into. It’s a highly intelligent, riveting piece of social realism, with a mesmerising lead performance from Jack O’Connell, whose career will surely be starred up itself as a result.

STARRED UP
Featuring most of the prison movie cliches you can think of...5
...and addressing them with originality, justified realism and thoughtful maturity9
Supporting performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Rupert Friend8
Jack O'Connell is a genuine star in the making9
Teaching me not to write things off at first sight10
Bechdel Test Passes
  • n/a
Bechdel Test Failures
  • I can only think of one named female character
8Overall Score

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