Based on the experiences of a prison therapist, ‘Starred Up’ is a violent jail drama about a father-son relationship behind bars.
Eric Love is a young offender so dangerous he has been ‘starred up’, which in prison jargon means he’s been promoted prematurely to an adult jail.
Already a festival favourite, the film premiered in east London ahead of its UK release.
Director David McKenzie said the location was essential to make it as authentic as possible: “I found this jail in Belfast and we had pretty much the run of it and we shot the film sequentially, which meant that we were immersed in the whole thing all the time. I think that helped everyone get more authentic, we were advised by the right people, and all the way through, from the script onwards the sense of trying to make it authentic in terms of what goes on and in terms of the emotions and in terms of everything,” said David McKenzie.
The 23-year-old newcomer Jack O’Connell has been widely praised for his portrayal of Eric, in what one critic called an electrified and electrifying performance.
The young actor said he spoke with real-life prisoners to get into character: “Thanks to their feedback and their insight I was able to feel totally convinced in the environment. It was a real blessing, a real luxury to have that on offer, I suppose.”
When he arrives, Eric discovers that his father, Nev, is at the prison too – a man whose neglect contributed much to Eric’s boiling rage. Nev is an important part of the gangster power that effectively controls the prison.
The screenplay is former prison psychotherapist Jonathan Asser’s debut work and offers invaluable insight into the violence that underpins life behind bars.
‘Starred Up’ is out in some European cinemas from now.