Irvine Welsh is an excellent novelist. I went through a phase of voraciously devouring his books when I was a teenager, loving the controversial extremes explored in Trainspotting, Filth and Porno. Having grown up in Glasgow (the wrong end), I liked how true to life his portrayals were, how they didn’t try to make anything right, just to make it true.
I haven’t read any of his novels in over a decade, and couldn’t really remember the plotline of Filth at all, so was pleased to discover an invitation to the screening in my inbox. I went along hoping for a good film. I was disappointed.
The problem wasn’t so much the movie itself, I think, as what it had behind it to live up to. I went there expecting some gritty Scottish realism, along the lines of the excellent Tyrannosaur or Trainspotting. Instead I found myself watching what felt like an extended TV drama, and not a great one at that.
The story should be challenging and dramatic: a coke-addicted Scottish policeman is desperate to win back his wife and child, instead plunging further and further into insanity as voices and hallucinations haunt him until he’s no longer sure what is real. He alienates himself from all his friends and sinks into a desperate despair from which we’re not sure he’ll ever return. Then one day he tries to save the life of a stranger who passes out in the street, and befriends the man’s widow and young son, who are concerned about his wellbeing. Will it be enough to turn him around?
An intriguing storyline. I like a good descent into madness. I love gritty realism, thought Tyrannosaur was one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and don’t mind being shocked by the odd bit of well-placed gore (I also enjoyed A Serbian Film).
It just didn’t feel like gritty realism, though. I want to say it felt like an excruciatingly long episode of The Bill, but I don’t want to insult a TV show I’ve never actually watched.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it didn’t seem like a movie. Certainly not like a good one: a few people stood up and left during the screening, which is never a good sign. Part of the problem was the actors playing the parts, I think; I couldn’t make myself care about any of them, not even the main character, because none of them evoked empathy. I didn’t feel swept along with the storyline at all; I frequently found myself wondering whether my friend was around for coffee afterwards, thinking about what I’d have for dinner, whether I’d remembered to top up my Oyster card.
It’d work well as a TV Christmas special of a flagging show whose ratings are going down. It doesn’t work as a feature-length movie for people to go and watch after a long week at the office.