Scum (film)

Directed by Alan Clarke
Produced by Clive Parsons
Don Boyd (executive producer)
Written by Roy Minton
Starring Ray Winstone
Mick Ford
Julian Firth
John Blundell
Phil Daniels
Alan Igbon
Ray Burdis
Distributed by Blue Underground
Release dates
  • 12 September 1979 (1979-09-12)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £250,000[1]

Scum is a 1979 British crime drama film directed by Alan Clarke, portraying the brutality of life inside a British borstal. The script was originally made as the television play Scum for the BBC's Play for Today strand in 1977, however due to the violence depicted, it was withdrawn from broadcast.[2] Two years later, director Alan Clarke and scriptwriter Roy Minton remade it as a film, first shown on Channel 4 in 1983.[2] By this time the borstal system had been reformed and eventually allowed the original TV version to be aired.

The film tells the story of a young offender named Carlin as he arrives at the institution and his rise through violence and self-protection to the top of the inmates' pecking order, purely as a tool to survive. Beyond Carlin's individual storyline, it is also cast as an indictment of the borstal system's flaws with no attempt at rehabilitation. The warders and convicts alike are brutalised by the system. The film's controversy was derived from its graphic depiction of racism, extreme violence, rape, suicide, many fights and very strong language.[3]

Scum would be one of the most controversial British films of the early 1980s, but has since become regarded as a popular classic.


Three young men arrive at Borstal by prison van: Carlin, who has taken the blame for his brother's theft of scrap metal; Angel for stealing a car; and Davis, sent here after escaping from an open institution. All three are allocated to their rooms; Angel and Davis sent to private rooms, and Carlin sent to a dormitory.

Carlin wants to keep a low profile, having been transferred for assaulting a warder. He meets and befriends Archer, an eccentric and intellectual inmate intent on using non-violent means to cause as much of a nuisance to the staff as possible, and is informed his reputation is already known; Banks, the current "Daddy" (the inmate who "runs" the Borstal) is seeking Carlin for a fight.

Carlin struggles to settle into the dormitory, and after having watched the timid and bullied Davis be attacked by Banks, is eventually beaten by Banks and his friends in an unprovoked attack.

Carlin eventually gets his revenge on Banks. He uses a makeshift cosh from a long sock with two snooker balls inside to beat Banks's crony, then confronts Banks in the bathroom and replaces him as the "Daddy" of the ward. Carlin later acquires power over the adjacent wing of the borstal by administering a vicious beating to the adjacent wing's Daddy.

Life improves for the inmates under Carlin, with victimisation of younger, weaker prisoners prevented, along with racially motivated violence. Carlin gains status with the warders. He persuades them to move him from the dormitory to a single cell in return for an agreement to be responsible in his status as a "natural leader". Goodyear offers Carlin a position of leadership in the borstal to help him develop his leadership skills.

Another inmate, Toyne, learns through a letter from his in-laws that his wife has died, and sinks into despair, eventually slashing his wrists. After being moved to another prison, word reaches the inmates that he has killed himself in a second suicide attempt. Davis, meanwhile, is framed for theft by Eckersley and placed on report. Carlin advises Davis to avoid them; but Davis is subsequently gang-raped by three youths in a potting shed. This is seen by warder Sands who merely smiles at the rape. Davis slips into despair, and kills himself when he slashes himself in his cell at night. Whilst bleeding to death, he presses the button in his cell for help, but is ignored by warder Greaves.

Davis’ suicide causes mass hysteria within the prison, with the inmates refusing to eat their food at dinner. Carlin initiates a full-scale riot in the dinner hall. Carlin, Archer and Toyne's friend Meakin are shown being dragged bleeding and unconscious into solitary confinement. The Borstal's Governor later informs them the damage to the dinner hall will be repaid through lost earnings. The film ends with The Governor declaring a minute's silent prayer for Davis and Toyne.


  • Herbert Norville – Toyne
  • George Winter – Rhodes
  • Alrick Riley – Angel
  • Philip DaCosta – Jackson
  • Peter Francis – Baldy
  • Andrew Paul – Betts
  • Sean Chapman – James
  • Ozzie Stevens – Smith
  • Ricky Wales – Chambers
  • James Donnelly – Whittle
  • Joe Fordham – Reg
  • Ray Jewers – Gym Instructor
  • Ian Liston – White
  • James Lombard – Jameson
  • Charles Rayford – Philpott
  • John Rogan – Escort
  • Perry Benson – Formby

Deviations from original BBC production

The film differs from the original BBC production in many respects. The film contains strong language as opposed to the milder BBC version. The violent scenes were far more graphic in the 1979 remake. Ray Winstone, John Blundell, Phil Daniels, John Judd, Ray Burdis and Patrick Murray all reprise their respective roles as Carlin, Banks, Richards, Sands, Eckersley and Dougan from the BBC version, while all other roles are recast. David Threlfall had been intended to reprise his role as Archer from the BBC version, but he was working with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the time and was subsequently replaced with Mick Ford. The story was also changed. The BBC version features a homosexual relationship between Carlin and another inmate, which was dropped from the film. Minton later said that this was a pity as it would have expanded Carlin's character and made him vulnerable in an area where he could not afford to be vulnerable.

The television play version of the film also features less graphic rape and suicide scenes. An additional scene shows Davis trying to talk to Carlin about the incident. Carlin dismisses him when he told him to talk in front of his missus (partner) but Davis refuses to because it is too personal, then he commits suicide. In the remake, the relationship between Carlin and his 'missus' doesn't feature. Instead, during the mess, Davis looks up at Carlin from the dining table as if about to confide in him, but Carlin unwittingly chooses that moment to get up and leave.

Also in the television play, it's made clear Banks is in hospital – resulting from the beating administered by Carlin when ousting him as the "daddy" – at the end of the film; in the theatrical version he is present at the end moment of silence.


In a High Court case against Channel 4 for showing the film, British morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse initially won her private prosecution,[4] but the decision was later reversed on appeal. The Independent Broadcasting Authority had approved the film's transmission.

In 2010, a Canadian film heavily based on Scum, titled Dog Pound, was released.[5]

Home media releases

The film was first released on VHS video in the UK in 1983, where it was immediately caught up in the UK Video nasty controversy of the early 1980s.

It was later released on DVD in the UK by Odyssey and Prism Leisure. It was the digitally remastered uncut version but in fullscreen, with only a trailer and an interview as bonus features. In the US an Alan Clarke boxset was issued that included several films, among them both the BBC original and cinema version of the film plus audio commentaries. Prism Leisure released a limited edition 2 disc set in the UK on 13 June 2005. Disc One featured the BBC version with an audio commentary and two interviews. Disc Two instead featured the theatrical remake with an audio commentary, several interviews and featurettes and two trailers. It was digitally remastered from a widescreen print. This special edition DVD was sold in amaray slipcase packaging and also in a limited edition tin case. A Region 0 DVD boxset featuring both the theatrical version and the 1977 BBC-banned television version on separate discs followed in the US, released by Blue Underground.[6]


  1. Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p 155
  2. 1 2 BBC Radio 4 – Scum
  3. Scum (1979) – Film Review from Film4
  4. John Mark Ministries | Mary Whitehouse
  5. Philip French (29 August 2010). "Dog Pound". The Observer. Retrieved 14 September 2012.
  6. Scum: 2 Disc Collector's Special Edition, 2007 Quest Media

External links

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