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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Young Adam's dark tale
by Matthew Slater
BBC News Online

Young Adam
Joe (McGregor, left) has a murky past
Ewan McGregor stars in controversial British film Young Adam.

When you have starred in two poor Star Wars movies, it is important to return to what you do best.

For Ewan McGregor, that means playing an anti-hero on the margins of Scottish society.

And if you have to take your clothes off, so be it.

So after indie successes Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, and big-budget stinkers Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, we now have McGregor back on form in a gritty movie for consenting adults.

McGregor plays Joe, a drifter working on a coal barge in 1950s Scotland, whose past comes back to haunt him when he and his boss Les (Peter Mullan) fish a semi-naked corpse (Emily Mortimer) out of the Clyde.

Joe lives on the barge with Les, his wife Ella (Tilda Swinton) and their son. The confines of life down below, Joe's come hither looks and Ella's unfulfilled sensuality soon combine to spark a passionate affair between the two.

Tilda Swinton
Ella (Tilda Swinton) begins a torrid affair with Joe (McGregor)

But while sexual sparks fly on the Glasgow-Edinburgh canal, a series of flashbacks to Joe's pre-working man existence reveal that he knows more about the dead woman than he is letting on.

Director David MacKenzie handles this dual timeline skilfully. The affair and police investigation into the death progress with a gathering sense of doom, while the gaps in plot and characterisation are filled in by the flashbacks - by far the best bits of the film.

Faithfully based on hip-again Beat writer Alexander Trocchi's morality tale - think Camus by the Clyde - MacKenzie's film will disappoint viewers who like their stories to have happy endings or even morals.

There is none of that here, and while neither is needed, a little more warmth might have lifted the gloom, and the main protagonists are almost too enigmatic for their own good.

That said, the director and his excellent cast should be congratulated for making a serious film that is unashamedly amoral, un-American and timely.

Young Adam is now showing across the UK.


Have you seen the film? What did you think?

Send us your views on the form below.

This is truely a dire film, I can't believe I paid to watch it. It started slow and never got going - I don't even know why it's called Young Adam, something must have passed me by, like the film. The plot left a lot to be desired, and in a traditional sense there was no beginning, middle and end though I suspect this is what the director/writer wanted.
Steve, Scotland

This is the most real film I have ever seen - sometimes too much so for comfort. I was both touched and disturbed by it, and left feeling very confused as to how I felt about the main character, Joe. Absolutely amazing and utterly convincing acting. I was quite disappointed by its portrayal of the female characters though, most of whom seemed to spend the entire film either naked or 'inflagrante'.
Jan, Scotland

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, a refreshing change from the usual froth on at the cinema.
Helen Smith, UK

We went full of hope but for us it teetered on the ridiculous - and so inevitably got boring. We fidgeted: did we want to stay for more? We did - just, 'cos there were very good performances. In prepill 50s/60s, could women really dare - or afford - to be like that? We were less and less convinced and more and more convinced that we were being subjected to a dose of voyeurism.

We'd say 9/10 for performances - 10/10 for Tilda Swinton, about 3/10 for "conception". Well directed, we thought, poorly/boringly conceived. Good few-word script.
Charlie & Bari Lyn, UK

I thought that it was a very interesting film. It succeeded in creating a brilliantly sombre and depressing world almost void of any hope or joy. The performances were excellent with Ewan Mcgregor particularly shining after a few poor movies. It's well worth seeing especially if you are fed up with empty hollywood movies that have nothing to say.
Gareth George, England

Ewan and Tilda were fabulous in this depressing saga of two simpletons. Their performances in playing the two lead characters were impressive to say the least. But in all honesty, if the film had been on the TV and I was not sitting in the cinema, then I would have turned the channel. Not for the performances or for the artfully shot film, but for the sombre pace and story line that let the film down.

If Ewan is to get back to the ranks of greatness, then he has to hook up with some more British directors. They seem to be able to pull the best out of him.
Dougie Mackay, Holland

Loved the film - especially the scene where Joe takes Ella's sister to the pub for a wee dram (very large neat gins-knocked back in double time) and the rest. Pure genius - Ella was far too trusting to let those two go off together! The cinematography was great and music by David Bryne added to the dark, brooding atmosphere.
Paddy, Scotland

It's nice to see proof that he really can act after the dreadful Star Wars appearances. Shame it was fundamentally depressing: another "it's grim up north" film.
Simon, London, UK

I saw the film tonight and while I did enjoy it i am questoining why the need for so much sex and nakedness in the film? Was nice to see an undressed Ewan McGregor, don't get me wrong but did nearly every main character have to get their kit off? Did not quite get this essential part of the plot. I feel the nakedness was within the story until the point where the new landlady is having a bath in the sink, just went too far, we really didn't need to see yet another naked body.

Enjoyed the slow pace of the film and the lingering camera angles, also enjoyed the lack of dialogue - David McKenzie allowed the actors to express the story rather than being bogged down in dialogue. The director did not ask us to care about the characters so the film was not laden with oversentimentality which is definetely refreshing. I think David McKenzie is shaping up to be a creative and original director. I look forward to seeing more Scottish films in the future.
Carron Munro, Scotland

I thought this was a fantastic film and I love that Ewan McGregor has finally gone back to more believable characters like 'Joe'. The only problem I had with this film was that it's called Young Adam, now, please excuse my ignorance, but am I missing something? Who is this infamous Young Adam, there's no-one in the film called Adam, the youngest person in the film is called 'Jim' so why the title? I have not read Alexander Trocchi's original, but I can only come to the conclusion that there was a character namedAadam in the original and the name was changed for whatever reason in the film.


Chris Watters, Scotland

They filmed quite a lot of this on the canal below my student halls. We were very grateful for their presence, it was the first time in ages that canal got a clean!
Anna Richerby, UK

A well-acted and beautifully shot but ultimately empty cinema experience. The story, and the original book, are so slight and lacking in any human warmth that the film fails to engage. By the end of the film I couldn't care less what happened to McGregor's vapid and self-indulgent Young Adam. But Emily Mortimer looked pretty hot!
Norry Wilson, Scotland

I was one of the best films I've seen. It's certainly one of the finest British films ever made. Don't talk about it in terms of morality, for the love of Mike!
Rob McGloin, Scotland

The claustrophobic scenes on the boat are fantastic but after that the film drifts too much and loses momentum. Fine performance by Ewan McGregor.
Steven, Edinburgh, Scotland

The film was slow and tedious. More about sex than drama.
Gary Hunter, Scotland

I saw this film with my wife and we both thought that it was one of the worst we have ever seen. Whilst the acting was very good there is no story-line, it is dull slow and very, very dreary. With its stupid over-emphasis on sex it even managed to make sex unsexy!
Bobby Clark, UK

Having seen the movie over the weekend, it makes me proud that Scottish cinema is producing such thought provoking and well crafted cinema. Yes, there are a lot of sexual shots and scenes throughout the film but this only serves as a tool to the film maker the same as music is a tool to the Moulin Rouge.

The idea of an almost film noir style flashback story telling makes it a refreshing piece of film. The recreation of a 1950s Glasgow was super. Well done Ewan for having the courage of your convictions to return to films that made your name and supporting Scottish cinema. A truly 5 star movie but one refreshingly for the adults.
Brett Herriot, Scotland

Hats off to the filmmakers for making one of the most intelligent films of the year. Definitely hard and uncompromising and difficult, but astonishing performances from all involved give this film a riveting intensity rarely seen in the multiplex. Shows what films for adults CAN be. Easy to critisise, but undeniably stretching cinema far beyond the usual Hollywood popcorn.
Stuart McAra, Scotland

McGregor was very good at playing such a sombre role while still showing the lighter side of the character. It was good to see such an original style of story telling and the seemingly random movement around the timeline didn't cause confusion, just mystery.

Also, give Ewan a break about Star Wars. He was limited with what he could do with the character as he had already been played by Alec Guinness years before. I think he did as well as he could have.
John Muir, Scotland

Scottish cinema at its best -beautifully filmed, excellent performances by the cast highly recommended.
James Fyffe, London

Take out the Film Four actors and the storyline's 60 minutes of dull brooding and you simply have a late night Channel 5 porn flick about a randy lodger. This is British cinema at its most pretentious.
Amer, London, UK

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SEE ALSO:
McGregor film kicks off festival
13 Aug 03  |  Scotland
Star Wars actor attacks media
15 May 03  |  Entertainment
McGregor drops his film company
31 Oct 02  |  Entertainment
McGregor reads bedtime stories
18 Oct 02  |  Entertainment
McGregor tips latest Star Wars film
07 May 02  |  Entertainment


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