On a cheap-ticket-Tuesday during the early stages of our relationship, my significant other opted for Captain Phillips. I cautiously suggested Filth, having read and thoroughly enjoyed the source novel, with the disclaimer ‘if we see this you probably won’t want to associate with me again’.
Being that he chose the film the previous week, my vote won out. Both of us are glad it did.
As a novel, Filth holds many of the typical hallmarks of an Irvine Welsh work: it’s miserably Scottish, it’s humorously Scottish, it’s drug-loaded, it’s violent, and on a fair few pages it’s shocking. Specifically, this one is the first-hand account of Bruce Robertson, a career cop based in Edinburgh edging for a promotion. He has a beautiful wife, a loving daughter and a predilection for deviant sex, drugs and screwing over his colleagues in numerous senses.
As a film, it probably draws reflexive comparisons to Trainspotting, the most famous adaptation of a Welsh work. I’ve yet to see that film so am unable to comment, but having read the novel, the comparison is lazy and fairly inaccurate. Based on the narratives alone, Filth is more emotionally drawing and draining, largely because it centres around one individual rather than several.
James McAvoy portrays the lead character in a very interesting way. A major criticism of his casting is that he’s, well, too good-looking for the role; while the film should stand alone from its source material, the aura of repulsiveness and decay is comparatively deadened from the picture of the sickening individual induced by the novel cover. Think Monty Python’s Mr Creosote played by Ryan Gosling, or similar.
This is more or less the only part of McAvoy’s performance that can really be criticised, however; he swings so easily from wonderfully charismatic to psychotically humourous that the rapid change of tone in the film’s climax is made even more hard-hitting. While the viewer may feel unsavoury pleasure observing Bruce’s actions, the real shock comes at the knowledge that McAvoy has made us care about such an unpleasant creation. Unfortunately the Motion Picture Academy’s politics means he’s unlikely to even be Oscar nominated, but he is well deserving.
The other particularly striking aspect of the film for me personally was the amount of Stanley Kubrick references. The most obvious of these is the 2001: A Space Odyssey poster on the wall of Bruce’s boss’s office, but there are several others. Notably, the room in which Bruce hallucinates his psychiatric consultancies is reminiscent of the room at the end of 2001; the psychiatrist himself mirrors exactly in speech patterns Alex’s probation officer (A Clockwork Orange); Bruce’s hallucinations of animals, especially the grotesque pig, are not dissimilar to the infamous ‘dog scene’ in The Shining. These references are made well enough to be entertaining homages for those who pick up on them, and they suit the film very well.
The dark humour throughout, plus the necessary omission of certain events which occur in the novel (as much for the sake of getting a general release than for limiting running time), give it a much lighter tone, and there is much to laugh at in genuine amusement rather than shock. In this respect it’s similar to the variations between the novel and adaptation of Ellis’s American Psycho. Regrettably, the comparative lack of creative narrative techniques than those employed in the novel mean the major twist is quite guessable early on, and is slightly altered from the original; the reveal is done well enough to be suitably impressive, however, even for those who are aware of it.
Overall, fans of the novel will find little to contend with, as any major changes or omissions are done out of limitations of the narrative rather than creative misjudgements. While the absence of Bruce’s tapeworm’s contribution is unfortunate (yes, I’m aware how that sounds if you’re unfamiliar), the film serves well as a dark comedy which hurtles rapidly into a then painfully drawn-out tragedy. Fantastically acted and directed, and a poignant reminder that even the most repulsive figures can sometimes be worthy of our sympathy.
Also, Clint Mansell’s score is flawless throughout, but this cover (which ends the film) is phenomenal.