Sweet Sixteen

Sweet Sixteen (18)

This latest slice of life drama from social realist master Ken Loach is every bit as memorable in its way as his most acclaimed films Kes and Cathy Come Home.

Centring on Liam, a teenage delinquent in a small Scottish town, it chronicles his desperate attempts to create a normal family life for when his mother is released from prison.

In the meantime he’s caught between her thuggish boyfriend and his own grandfather, neither of whom want Liam around. With time on his hands he turns his attention to a variety of petty crime.

Yet while Liam can cope with selling drugs to finance his dream of owning a caravan overlooking the sea, to be shared with his mum, sister and her baby, he can hardly foresee crossing swords with the local drugs kingpin. Soon he is packing a flick knife and taking on an array of local hard nuts.

With tough characters, equally tough language and an uncompromising script by Paul Laverty Sweet Sixteen presents a compelling story as Liam, powerfully played by non-actor Martin Compston, begins a downward spiral into major crime.

Loach and Laverty, who previously collaborated on Bread and Roses, My Name is Joe and Carla’s Song, are unsparing in their depiction of hopelessness and the loss of innocence, while the urban landscape acts as yet another hard-edged character in this difficult and often unsavoury tale. Only the sometimes-impenetrable Scots accents mar the proceedings.

Then there is the language – a blitzkrieg of f-words and, the ultimate taboo, the c-word, scattered throughout the script like linguistic fireworks. Sometimes they are the only recognisable words.

A bleak, unrelenting tale in fitting with Loach’s oeuvre, Sweet Sixteen once again proves the value in using ‘real’ people in lead roles as opposed to professional actors, and the teenage Compston and co-stars William Ruane and Annmarie Fulton prove their worth with a trio of affecting, poignant performances that bring the emotion and heart of the story to the core.

Sweet Sixteen, which opened the Leeds International Film Festival last week, lacks the overt left-wing politics of a lot of Loach’s work and is all the better for it. It remains, at its conclusion, a salutary tale, and one that lingers in the memory long after the credits have faded.

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