Despite being released over 30 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Scum has lost none of its punch. Scum is an unforgiving portrait of the British borstal system; 1 hour and 30 minutes of both physical and psychological abuse.
The film examines the hierarchy of the borstal, looking at the behaviour and roles of both the wardens and the inmates, questioning who's worst. The hierarchy is ruptured when Carlin (Ray Winstone) enters the borstal. Carlin claims to be looking for 'no trouble', but really is equally or even more pugnacious and skullduggerous than the rest.
Much like 'Cool Hand Luke' and 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest', Scum explores the infuriating frustration of injustice in 'correctional' institutions. Personally, I find few things worse than the abuse of power, whether it's within an institution or within a family. I'm sure many would agree with me on that, subsequently making Scum an engrossing, resonating and unpleasant watch for all. The character of Archer, an intelligent and supposedly staunch vegetarian who's out to make life hard for the screws, delivers strands of Roy Minton's script that brilliantly observe the system and the angry men that staff these institutions - "Although you have spent your life in the prison service, you are still only a basic officer. Now, who gets the stick for that? Us. Who pays for that daily humiliation?"
It's Carlin's arrival, growth and ultimately tenure as 'The Daddy' that serves as the central narrative of the film, but, as a whole, it is a condemnation of the British borstal system that's the films message and purpose. Through convincing performances and harsh realism, Scum accomplishes what it sets out to achieve: depict the reprehensible conditions of violence, racism and corruption in these institutions. One may wonder if the film exaggerated these conditions, but the borstal system was abolished by government in 1982, replacing it with 'Youth Custody Centres'. I think this speaks volumes for Scum's credibility.