'It's about how one young person tries to make sense of his life'

Preview by Jack Foley

 

 

HAVING already won Paul Laverty an award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, it is little wonder that the latest film from Ken Loach is being hailed as one of the biggest British movies of the year.

Set in the small Scottish town of Greenock, just along the Clyde from Glasgow, Sweet Sixteen is far from the sweetness and light that its title suggests - rather, it is a gritty, violent and frequently downbeat tale of a 15-year-old boy who turns to drug-dealing in a desperate bid to raise enough money to buy a trailer for himself and his mother when she gets out of prison.

And being a Ken Loach affair, the film does not pull any punches, being littered with some colourful language throughout and refusing to take an easy route to a satisfying conclusion. This is a million miles from Hollywood at all times and really gives credence to that age-old saying, 'it's grim up North'.

The decision to opt for as realistic approach to the film as possible was made at an early stage, when Loach decided to cast untrained teenage actors to give the film an even more gritty, realistic feel. Indeed, some of the Scottish accents are so thick that it is hard to decipher some of what is being said, while the director opted to add English subtitles to the film for its Cannes premiere.

And while the resulting picture is certainly tough viewing, you cannot help but admire some of the performances, especially that from 17-year-old Martin Compston, as Liam, whose decision to deal drugs can only really have tragic consequences.

According to Loach: "We had a long search for the lad who plays Liam because he has to be lots of different things, and I suppose the search helped us define what we were looking for. He's a working class lad, he's very bright, he makes you smile when you meet him because of his cheek and his ability to come up smiling whatever life throws at him. So, he's a survivor."

Compston was chosen from a local school after months of searching and confesses that it was his father who persuaded him to go to the audition, even though he had never acted before. In fact, the young star prefers football and has signed for Morton Football Club in the Scottish Second Division, where he now commands first team football.

But this drew Loach to the teenager, as he reveals: "I think it's interesting that Martin is a footballer because of the discipline of training. When the whistle blows, you've got to perform. You pick yourself up whatever knocks you get - I think that discipline was important as preparation for the kind of work you have to do when you are filming."

As for the other actors in Sweet Sixteen, Michelle Coulter, who plays Liam's mother, has worked in drug rehabilitation projects for the past 10 years but never acted, while Annmarie Fulton, who plays his sister, has only recently completed an HND qualification in acting but has also never filmed before.

Needless to say, Loach is delighted with the results, particularly as the movie played to such acclaim at Cannes. He decided to take on the project after filming Bread and Roses in LA and spent a lot of time with young people while preparing.

According to writer, Laverty: "For some time I'd been talking with Ken about doing another very personal story; about how one young person tries to make sense of his life. It's as simple and as complex as that. Friends, family and community connect or smash up against each other in endlessly complex patterns.

"Liam is at a delicate point in his life. Some things just don't fit, though he's absolutely determined to use his considerable talent and cheek to make them do so.

"What struck me from talking to lots of carers who work with children (either in children's homes with foster carers or even secure accommodation) was that, no matter how chaotic the family home, most were still determined to make contact with their mother. There's something extra concentrated about adolescence.

"There's a special energy which can be exhilarating or explosive. Fragility and often a wild courage, even if misplaced, can sit easily side by side. We were keen to try and capture some of those qualities in our story."

Audiences can discover whether they have succeeded when the movie opens in cinemas on October 4.

Click here to view the trailer in our A/V Room...

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