By Paul Rodger
If ever there was a way to take a gaze at the ugly side of life, you can put your trust in an Irvine Welsh novel to provide the perfect catalyst. Adapted to the big screen and directed by Aberdeen born film-maker Jon S. Baird and starring James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland; Trance), with supporting roles from Imogen Poots (V for Vendetta; 28 Weeks Later) and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot; Flag of Our Fathers), the film presents the story of detective sergeant Bruce Robertson (McAvoy), a drug addled, corrupt minded, sex addicted cop who is on the hunt for promotion to the Detective Inspector position at the fictitious “Lothian Constabulary”.
The film begins with Robertson sitting in the police station, weighing up the competition of his fellow officers – sardonically denouncing each of their chances of success and rating each with flippant bookie style odds. Immediately the audience is posed with an awkward, malicious, two-faced protagonist, quickly challenging the audience’s attitudes and views towards the seemingly ethically void Robertson. In textbook Welsh style, Baird, who wrote the screenplay, also strikes the balance of twisted sordidness with witty, and at times absurd, tongue in cheek humour. This is perhaps most apparent when Robertson, along with fellow masonic member, and accountant Clifford Blades (Eddie Marsan), travel to Hamburg for a debauchery fuelled holiday. Upon returning home from a club, where Robertson spiked Blades’ drink with initially funny results, when going to bed, Blades begins to have what appears to be a panic attack resulting from a bad trip – with Robertson, seemingly overwhelmed and slightly indifferent, leaving the room and sitting in a corner outside the bedroom recoiling at the sound of Blades’ screaming. One of Filth’s most striking features is its attentive character development. As the film advances, the plot begins to focus more deeply on Robertson’s character as well as his unrepentant, self-pleasing exploits, with his drug use, malicious dishonesty and immorality growing in intensity. Sitting in his living-room crying, watching a homemade family film featuring his wife and young daughter, as well as the copious vials on his bedroom desk, begin to suggest a more vulnerable and unstable side to Robertson’s psyche – contrasting the riotous, scheming figure initially presented. At first so immersed and manipulative over others, Robertson begins to deteriorate and spiral out of control of himself as his relationships, career prospects and mental state descend into ominous jeopardy. Peeling back the deceptive curtain of humour and confidence to reveal a shriveled, psychologically unbalanced character perhaps hard not to sympathise with as his delusions, narcotic temptations and reckless actions come back to haunt him.
With a competently crafted, gripping storyline and Baird’s addressing of particular contemporary social issues, such as drug addiction, mental illness and prejudice, Filth is one film which, love or loath, compel or disgust, will no doubt stand as an icon of Scottish film for years to come.