NEDS: A Stab In The Dark

NEDS: A Stab In The Dark

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Entertainment one 

Release date: May 23rd, 2011
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 124 minutes

Writer/Director: Peter Mullan

Composer: Craig Armstrong

Cast: Conor McCarron, Martin Bell, Linda Cuthbert, Peter Mullan, Steven Robertson

NEDS is a socio-realist kitchen-sink drama from Peter Mullan, set in 1970s Glasgow, on the rough south side. Brutal and raw, Mullan captures the alcoholic father, the teenage-gangs fighting in broad daylight, and the difficulty of being smart with a deftness that brings these fragile years to life.

It follows the formative early high school years of John McGill (Conor McCarron) as he struggles to find his place at school and home. The bleak reality is that he has no friends, has to name drop his older brother Benny to stop himself from being beaten up, and endure his raging alcoholic father.


He dedicates himself to his studies until, during the summer break between second and third year, he drifts in with The Bad Crowd, and everything begins to go awry.

His only friend, Julian (Martin Bell), is kind of posh, and Julian’s mother bans John from calling round. Alone once more, and craving the attention and approval of his older brother, John falls in with his neighbourhood gang, starts carrying a knife, and brawls in daylight. He gets into trouble at school, enraging the teachers who once helped him and disobeys his mother.

Typically teenage in some of his exploits, drinking, huffing glue, sleeping out after a fight with his parents, John goes on to commit emotionless acts of gross violence. The violence isn’t really commented on. It’s just laid out there as something that happens. There are no recriminations for slitting someone’s throat, for using a frying pan as a weapon, nor a grave stone. The lack of a moral compass isn’t really bothering, of course people can get away with doing terrible things, but this is a film, so shouldn’t something happen?


NEDS is a sprawling movie, lacking plot and direction. This is, of course, just like real life, which is one of the downfalls of this film. Real life doesn’t make a good film, surely that’s one of the reasons we have films. It’s not a bad piece of cinema, but it is unbearable, borderline unwatchable.

The scene where John has huffed too much glue and is hallucinating Jesus… What is this? I cringed! The music jarred from the rest of the film, it broke the tension; it seemed unecessary and didn’t add anything to the film.

This may be Mullan giving a comment on his Catholic upbringing, but in the context of them film alone, my responses were ‘fnyeh!’ and ‘hynnnnng!’ and ‘what?’.


The metaphors are a bit heavy handed sometimes too. The tightly wound swing as John snaps at his friends, and the closing scenes where he leads Canta by the hand through the lions at the zoo. It’s all a bit try-hard and cringe-worthy.

The stand out characters for me were two of the more minor ones. Peter Mullan as John’s (so, his own..?) raging, alcoholic father was fabulously dark, battling unseen demons and generally being a horrific, abusive human being. Growling instead of speaking, and only shown in daylight once, McGill Snr. is a major source of conflict and tension throughout.

Steven Robertson as Mr Bonetti, John’s Latin teacher is captivating to watch, and the litmus test for John’s academic downfall. Being snubbed by Bonetti in the playground is a snap of reality, because as smart as John still is, he’s betrayed the trust of those who could have helped him.


  • Interview with Peter Mullan
  • Deleted Scenes

I’m glad I’ve seen it, I feel like NEDS is a film that I should have watched, but I wouldn’t watch it again, and if someone asked me if they should watch it, I’d probably say no.

Special features include an interview with Mullan filmed at the BFI where he waxes lyrical about the writing process and how NEDS came about, as well as a selection of deleted scenes.

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