Review: Filth

Written by: John Roy


Filth is hilarious, mischievous, repugnant, and poignant.

This is discounting the mesmerising ‘born-to-play the role’ turn from James McAvoy as Bruce Robertson, and the hearty consignment of excellent character actors which litter this marvellous adaptation of the 2006 Irvine Welsh novel.

James McAvoy in Filth

James McAvoy in Filth

Filth wallows in itself, parading low-class stereotypes and various criminally disgusting individuals with all of the glee of the carnival from the outset. Humour is drawn like black pus from the festering sore that is Edinburgh, according to Bruce Robertson, as we join him in his quest from promotion within the Scottish poh-lice and the local Masonic lodge, and to win back his absent wife and daughter.

It’s the schizophrenic rollercoaster that drives the man, and drives the storyline forwards. Robertson is already in complete meltdown, his drug and alcohol fuelled lifestyle of betrayal, manipulation and sexual deviance seethes from the screen. It’s almost possible to smell the whiskey, the cigarettes, the soiled clothing and the grease in the hair. On the surface he’s nauseating… but like all good antagonists, provides some very dark fantasy amidst the abhorrence. As horrible as he is, Brucaay is a complete crack.

Like the novel, Filth is an ode to the disintegration of the Robertson’s psyche, played by McAvoy with all of the trademark black humour and spiteful relish of Welsh’s source material. Robertson embodies all that is potentially wrong about the male mentality and, to a subtler extent, the social make-up of traditional ‘values’. It’s McAvoy’s turn that will dominate comment on the film as he veers magnificently through the depths of persona; clearly communicating the once decent man that lives inside Robertson’s simmering outer crust.

Littered with great supporting turns, the principle male-dominated police colleagues are given a spectacularly politically incorrect introduction with John Sessions standing out with some comic timing and delivery that only a veteran actor like this can reproduce with such absurd material. It is Eddie Marsan though, as Bladesey (Robertson’s only real supposed friend), who has the stand-out moment to exemplify the mid-life male nadir so excellently captured in Filth; if you only attend to never hear Darude’s Sandstorm in the same way again, then it will have been worth it.

It’s probably worth noting that the entire soundtrack is very well selected, both in terms of perverting the image and lending humour and emotion which serve to enhance the already accomplished visual style and acting performances.

Imagine a thesis written on the biological complexities of human excrement and you are halfway there.

This male disintegration is complemented and contrasted by the softness and dignity of the recently bereaved widow Mary (Joanne Froggatt) in which Robertson sees echoes of his former emotional self, and the ever professional, considered and capable promotion rival Detective Drummond (Imogen Poots) in which he is reminded of the police officer he also once was.

There are some nicely surreal moments in Filth. Director Jon S. Baird (known for gritty urban dramas such as Cass) doesn’t over use the more abstract visuals on show. As Robertson crumbles, the frequency, darkness and suffocating nature of hallucinations become stronger and more extreme, veering into horror territory, but they are checked enough to make believe that some kind of salvation is still possible. It is this sense of teetering on the edge of reality, reason and social reliance that keeps the tension levels as highly charged as the politically incendiary – and all the more refreshing for it – humour.

This is an intelligent adaptation of material that is inherently low-brow; that’s not to say it’s not clever… it is. Imagine a thesis written on the biological complexities of human excrement and you are halfway there. Not since Trainspotting (Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the same author’s work from 1996) has there been as paradoxically as accomplished a film. Filth finds itself somewhere between the absurdity of Hobo With a Shotgun and the bleakly well-observed characterisation of Sightseers.

With a twist to die for (it’s still satisfying should you have read the book, don’t be put off), a sense of humour taken straight from the dribble-covered floor of an Edinburgh gallows, neat pacing and explosively memorable performances… it’s time you got covered in Filth.

See it now, “Sim roohls applay, ken?”




Author: John Roy

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