I watched Filth from behind my hands. It's ghastly and unpleasant, but what I saw of it was brilliant

5 October 2013

9:00 AM

5 October 2013

9:00 AM


18, Nationwide

People are generally saying Filth fully fulfils the promise of its title and is not for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach or lily of liver and, alas, I am all three, in spades. (My liver is, in fact, so lily-ish it may be a wonder of medical science.) Rape. Anal Sex. Violence. Drink. Drugs. Masturbation. Vomiting down yourself. There’s a part of me that would like to say that’s the average Saturday night in our house, but the truth is we generally watch The X Factor and record Strictly. So I endured this film, from behind my hands, rather than enjoyed it, but in the enduring, was there some reward, as can sometimes happen? We can work that out as we go along. No advantage in rushing such things.

Based on the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, it stars James McAvoy, who I should say, straight off, is absolutely terrific, and may provide the strongest reason for sitting through this. McAvoy plays Bruce Robertson and Bruce Robertson is Filth. He’s Filth because he’s an Edinburgh cop, and one of the nicknames for cops is ‘filth’, and he’s filth because he is repellent; a brutal sociopath with no moral compass. He is racist, homophobic, misogynistic, vindictive. If he’s not shoving coke up his nose he’s drowning in whisky. He torments then sleeps with his best friend’s wife (the magnificent Shirley Henderson, with a Cheryl Cole hairdo) and demands blowjobs from underage girls. He has no interest in solving crimes, particularly as he is otherwise preoccupied with gaining a promotion ahead of his colleagues, a darkly comic bunch which includes his coked-up sidekick, Jamie Bell, and, worst of all, not just a woman (Imogen Poots) but a woman who sees right through him, to what?


This is as much a journey through one man’s mind as it is through Edinburgh’s dark underbelly of general horridness and all the bodily fluids you can think of, plus quite a few you didn’t know the body actually produced. However, as adapted and directed by Jon S. Baird, it has an energy, a verve, a glee and a relentless intensity that somehow keep you hanging on in there. It is fast, and inventive, with a discombobulating soundtrack of familiar Christmas tunes, and although there are many hallucinatory episodes — Bruce’s pivotal relationship with his wife is largely told through hallucinatory episodes, and his relationship with his shrink (Jim Broadbent), plus there are animal heads — and one doesn’t like hallucinatory episodes as a rule, just as one doesn’t like dream sequences as a rule, these are always narratively clear, and psychologically revealing. And the deal becomes this: Bruce thinks he’s a winner, at the top of his game, while we, the audience, know he is a loser and mentally unravelling. Think of Holden Caulfield, turned nasty and taken as low as a human can go, if not lower.

So, something of an endurance. There is even one of those scenes set in a warehouse-type room where something vile happens to someone tied to a straight-backed chair, and as soon as you see the room and the chair you know it’s going to be awful. (And it is awful, from what I could gather from behind my hands.) But. But, but, but. There are some wonderful moments, including a trip to Amsterdam where Eddie Marsan, playing an otherwise timid accountant, lets it all hang loose, and Joanne Froggatt (Anna in Downton; a nice series for nice people) even turns up as Bruce’s one chance at redemption. Mostly, though, there is McAvoy, who is one of those actors who can, by some process — I don’t know what the technical name for this is, but it could be ‘brilliant acting’ — bring depth to emptiness, and although Bruce is never likeable, or even sympathetic, McAvoy offers us sufficient glimpses of the guilt and shame and self-loathing that drive him and, oddly, we begin to care what happens to him.

I was strangely hooked, and now I’ve seen it, I will always know I’ve seen it, just as I’ll always know I’ve seen The Night Porter, for example, or Clockwork Orange or even that other Irvine Welsh-based film, Trainspotting. Filth is ghastly and unpleasant, but also kind of brilliant, and therein lies both the reward and the rub. Plus, I do think we all need to accept life can’t be all about bland talent competitions, although, for the record, I would like to say it’s not true that we watch The X Factor and record Strictly every Saturday night. Sometimes, we do it the other way round.

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Show comments
  • Pootles

    Irvine Welsh – wee mammy’s boy with a filthy mind. Back in his 1990s heyday he fed the fantasies of both the Scottish and London MSM and created a picture of Scotland that was about as accurate as the Kaleyard fantasy, only in reverse. Although never a copper myself, I knew a few Edinburgh (Lothian & Borders Police, before wee Eck created his national politizei) coppers who were from another Scottish tradition – damn hard working, brave, decent, Presbyterian background men and women. They struggled with filth, but they were anything but that themselves. Welsh and trendy rubbish like him are part of the problem. Oh, and I speak as an Englishman.

  • cremaster

    The British film “industry” is always looking for excuses to make itself look cool, relevant and modern. For some reason, it collectively thinks that this means doing depraved things in Scotland while taking drugs.
    Whilist I can recommend taking drugs to anybody, I can’t put my hand on my heart and tell anyone to watch a cheap, dreary, formulaic, predictable British film, particularly one set in the welfare desert of Scotland.
    These films are Lefty fantasies created by Lefty fantasists for Lefty fantasists. Without taxpayers’ money (and lottery players’ money) they simply would not exist, and good riddance if that happened.

  • yoyoegg

    Only been to Edinburgh once, is this a documentary?

    • justejudexultionis

      No, because there weren’t any shots of neds snorting deep fried Mars Bars up their noses.

  • sunnydayrider

    Wait untill Hariet Harman sees it.

  • ShahidAziz

    Great film, watched it last night.

    Worth a repeat viewing for McAvoy’s astonishing turn as DS Bruce Robertson.

    Not a patch on the novel though, a bit too sanitised at times and methinks that the dreaded pox of PC may have sunk its claws into it a tiny bit (those who have, like myself, read the book and seen the film will know what I’m talking about).

    4 stars out of 5.

  • The_greyhound

    “He is racist, homophobic, misogynistic, vindictive”

    Well that doesn’t make him a bad person.

    • justejudexultionis

      It makes him a resident of Basildon.

  • Adaadat

    You see, this is the difference between the U.K. and the U.S. – Niall Ferguson commented on it, a while back. In the U.S., it seems, intelligent people only busy themselves with intelligent things, whilst here, educated people truly appear to enjoy mindless television programmes like Strictly and the disgustingly-manipulative bile of X Factor, alongside their intelligent pursuits, of course. Give me the much more high-falutin U.S. discourse any day (see Richocet), over the tabloid concerns of the U.K. intelligentsia.

    • Gg

      You’re kidding, right? U.S. is the mother of all things bad and mindless TV.

  • Angus_MacLellan

    Some people are racist, homophobic, misogynistic, vindictive – get over it.

    • justejudexultionis

      Most people are.

  • Hunter

    This film makes me proud to be Scottish for 2

    1. James McAvoy is absolutely outstanding in this
    role, one of the most talented and probably underestimated actors of
    our time.

    2. It shows Scotland in the most honest and truthful way – a country that produces amazing talent, but most importantly a country full of people who are not afraid to present a story(albeit exaggerated) and not be ashamed to have a laugh at our
    own expense.

    Perhaps the film reaches out to Scottish people more because it represents our home country, but there’s a dark, filthy underbelly of crime in all of our cities. Filth
    introduces us to the most elaborately despicable copper imaginable, but I would seriously question anybody who thinks it is just a shock tactic film. Great story, amazing cast and a roller-coaster ride of emotions – one minute I was disgusted, the next absolutely balling my eyes out.

    “Pootles,” I think you are maybe taking it a bit too seriously, however I will say that if you don’t think trainspotting was accurate of life in Edinburgh for a heroin
    addict…I think you better do some research. At the same time remember that Irvine Welsh is a fictional writer…so perhaps you should stop taking everything so literally. If you want to get back to me you could send me an owl, I hear Harry Potter doesn’t need his anymore…because you know, that’s all got to be true.

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  • Tyler Thomas

    The plot twist at the end was magnificent. I didn’t even see it coming, or even thought about it. It had me like what? And that last part was so comedic even though it was so serious. It shouldn’t of been as funny as it was, but his final line was just great.

  • anonymous G

    Who are these people who are so taken aback by the strange and violent and graphic that they must shield their precious eyeballs from such insanity and what magic cloud of pure virginal white must they have been raised upon to not be able to handle such common dysfunctionality in cinema? This is a world where men lure other men into their homes, murder them in cold blood then have sexual intercourse with their bodies and finally chop them up into small pieces and freeze those pieces in plastic bags.
    This is a world where filthy old men pose as school bus drivers to kidnap little girls and hold them hostage for twenty years while repeatedly raping and impregnating them, then aborting those babies with wire hangers, all the while keeping them naked, chained up in darkness, and starved.
    In this world, fathers are making their tiny helpless daughters suck them off while the mothers are denying this is occurring and boys are mutilating other boys in work sheds to emulate the sensation of living as vampires. This clown was a douche and a louse no doubt, but if you couldn’t handle this make believe tale I envy you. How nice it must have been to be raised away from reality.