Scum is a film made in 1979 portraying the brutality of life inside a British borstal. Directed by Alan Clarke and starring Ray Winstone, Mick Ford, Martin Philips, Davidson Knight, John Blundell, and Phil Daniels, it tells the story of a young offender named Carlin as he arrives at the institution, and his swift rise to become "The Daddy".
The film is critical of the borstal system and caused much controversy when first shown. Some felt it should be banned, while others felt that it should be required viewing. The film is violent, with a vicious male rape scene that leads to the suicide of the victim. The warders and convicts alike are brutalised by the system. There is no attempt at rehabilitation, the inmates are simply locked away and left to their own devices.
The story was originally made for the BBC's Play for Today strand in 1977 but was not shown at the time, although the BBC version has been broadcast since. Two years later director Alan Clarke and scriptwriter Roy Minton remade it as a film, which was then shown on Channel 4 in 1983, by which time the borstal system had been abolished (the British "public morality" campaigner Mary Whitehouse initially won her court case against Channel 4 for showing the film, but Channel 4 later won on appeal). The original BBC production differed slightly from the remade one. The main difference was in the homosexual relationship between Carlin and another inmate, which was in the BBC version but dropped from the later film. Minton later said that this was a pity because it would have expanded Carlin's character and made him vulnerable in an area where he could not afford to be vulnerable.
A strong character, intelligent, resourceful and dominant, Carlin arrives at the institution intent on keeping his head down. After a fair amount of provocation however he decides to take over. He does this through a mixture of violence and force of character. The turning point scene is where Carlin enters the games room, takes two snooker balls off the table, and puts them into a sock along with instructions to "carry on" to the lads playing pool. He then walks into the TV room and hits another inmate over the head with this improvised cosh. The scene is important because it is the first time we see Carlin dishing it out, up until then he has taken beatings from the "screws" and the other inmates. The scene is shocking because it is realistic. It was filmed in one continuous take (an assistant to the director had to lay on the floor and hand Winstone another sock, containing something less lethal, out of shot).
All the violence in the film is realistic. There is no music for dramatic effect, dialogue is limited, there are no extended fight scenes, no flesh wounds or "it's only a scratch" type wounds. Everything is short, sharp, and serious.
Another scene has Carlin discussing 'exchange rates' with another inmate. Only loose change was permitted in the borstal. No pound notes were allowed. This rule did not stop visitors passing money to the inmates at visiting time. The notes had to be exchanged for coins, and Pongo (the previous Daddy) had given fifty pence in the pound. Carlin explains that he has to give less, in order to assert himself. "It's psychology". He is persuaded to go up from 40p to 45p but adds: "Make it clear I'm doing as a favour: you 'ad to fucking beg me!"
Ben Archer is a fish out of water character. Not only is he far more intelligent than the rest of the inmates, he is also vastly more intelligent than any of the screws. He has no intention of being a good boy and playing the system. He does not care about getting time off for good behaviour and wants to serve his time "in my own little way". This way means "causing as much trouble for the screws as possible". To this end he becomes a vegetarian and refuses to wear leather. This means he walks barefoot, but it does mean he has to be put on a special diet, which means more work for the screws. The Governor is a deeply religious man and insists on every 'trainee' attending Sunday morning worship. Archer refuses to attend and registers himself as an atheist. So a prison officer has to be assigned to watch him on his own. Archer manages to wind up this prison officer as he talks about the "daily humiliation" that the system imposes on both the boys and the men who lock them up. His argument goes completely over the screw's head who sees it as simply an insult. "I give you my fucking coffee and you take the piss out of me!"
Scum (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079871/) at the Internet Movie Database