When it comes to adaptation, Filmmakers have dipped into the seedy, grotty world of Irvine Welsh’s formidable back catalogue a fair few times – the most successful of these being Danny Boyle’s seminal Trainspotting.
Welsh’s knack for creating vivid yet pitch black situations and characters that represent the twisted realities of drug abuse, pornography addiction and a wealth of pop culture touchstones mean most of his works are perfect for the big screen treatment. This time around it’s Filth, Welsh’s third novel, which makes the jump from page to film.
Filth drags us into the warped world of Edinburgh copper Bruce Robinson – a twisted, drug-hoovering, bigoted Freudian nightmare of a man – who is making Machiavellian overtures towards being promoted to Detective Inspector while gradually losing his tenuous grip on reality. Stepping into this cocaine and booze fried mind space is what most might think a bit of a leffield choice: James McAvoy.
McAvoy has always been the perennial good guy since his breakout role in The Last King of Scotland. Filth then sees any illusions of McAvoy’s inability to play anything but goody-two-shoes utterly smashed in a blizzard of coke, booze, whores and autoerotic asphyxiation. McAvoy is a revelation as Roberston. He morphs from drunken monster to an emotionally decaying wreck of a man and back again in a performance that will surely stand out as his greatest. It’s certainly his best to date. McAvoy owns the film and rises to the script’s muck-encrusted scenarios.
We shouldn’t feel any sympathy for this walking embodiment of psychosis, but such is the power of McAvoy’s performance that you can’t help but feel a slight tug on the heartstrings as Roberston tips over the brink of insanity.
Eddie Marsan, fresh from nearly stealing the show in The World’s End, offers suitably timid support as Clifford Blaze, while Jamie Bell and John Sessions are the standouts amongst the supporting cast.
Imogen Poots and Shirley Henderson also excel in their respective roles – Poots as determined Detective Sergeant Amanda Drummond (one of Robertson’s fiercest promotion rivals) and Henderson Blade’s demure yet overbearing wife Bunty.
Writer/Director Jon S. Baird has managed to take the usually picturesque city of Edinburgh to a darker, dingier place. But rather than focus on housing schemes and hypodermics of Leith – ala Trainspoitting – Baird chooses to frame the city through the distorted view of Bruce Robertson giving place a surreal quality that hasn’t really been explored on film before.
Standout sequences include Roberston confronting his psyche in the form of a brilliantly cackling Jim Broadbent during hypnagogic hallucinations. A frankly bizarre David Soul cameo is another highlight, displaying the film’s pitch black humour.
Frightening, disturbing images abound. Whether they are Bruce’s hallucinatory visions or one of the scenes of sexual depravity, various shots and snaps will stick under your fingernails for weeks to come. Particuarly galling is the sight of McAvoy being choked – or “turning the gas on” whilst shagging a colleague’s misses.
An intense, burning character Study, Filth is a film that will linger as insidious presence at the back of your mind after viewing. While it may not be an all encompassing success as Trainspotting, Filth is nonetheless an excellent film adaptation and is worth it alone for James McAvoy’s unhinged performance.