Director Peter Mullan has based his latest film, Neds, on his experience of gang life growing up in Glasgow. He takes Alistair

Harkness on a straight-talking tour of his old city haunts


HEART’ Photography: Stephen Robinson

I t’s the first Wednesday of the New Year and I’m driving with Peter Mullan across the Clyde into the Southside of Glasgow. We’re on our way to Cardonald, the predominantly working-class area of Mullan’s home city that serves as the backdrop and inspiration for his new film Neds, a fiercely intelligent, dark-hearted and blackly comic coming-of-age tale set in the early 1970s and loosely based on his own brief absorption into local razor gang, The Young Car-Ds. ‘It’s not autobiographical,’ says Mullan, dispensing with the most frequently asked question as we make our way along Paisley Road West. ‘But as I’ve said a million times before, it is personal.’

This shouldn’t be taken as a waffling disclaimer. To spend any time with Mullan is to realise he’s one of life’s straight shooters: affable, open and free of movie industry baggage. What’s interesting, though, is that it has taken him eight years to follow-up his Venice Film Festival-winning, Catholic Church-excoriating second feature, The Magdalene Sisters. He says acting jobs kept providing him with nice little diversions, buying him more time to spend with his kids, as well as more time to write Neds the latter taking shape as the story of a bright working-class kid called John McGill whose promising future is quickly derailed by school, gang and family pressures. As we reach Cardonald where Mullan grew up as part of a large, extended Catholic family, bullied by an alcoholic father we take a left down Lourdes Avenue, parking outside the imposing Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church. Lourdes Primary School sits just ahead, visible through cracks in the hedge. As Mullan gets out of the car he points back up the avenue at the massive brick wall that lines the opposite side of the street, effectively cutting us off from 21st century city life. ‘We shot up and down here a lot because it’s one of the few places you can get a good run at stuff and it would pass for period.’

Like all Mullan’s films, Neds has a combative attitude towards the church. Unlike his other films, it dramatises this conflict in a much bolder, more surreal way. How surreal? Try the protagonist getting high on glue and having a square-go with Jesus while The New Seekers’ ‘You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me’ plays on the soundtrack. ‘Aye, that doesn’t happen often,’ concedes Mullan. He points to the front of the church. ‘That’s where we built our

Jesus. The church wanted to keep it, so we gave them it.’

It’s surprising the church didn’t try to block the shoot, given the furore The Magdalene Sisters caused. As it happens, the nuns of the neighbouring Nazareth House did show up on set but only to have their picture taken with Mullan. ‘I had to ask them if they knew who I was. But they were like, “Yeah, you directed The Magdalene Sisters.” I was very surprised that I’d been so exonerated.’

Back in the car, we talk about the film’s title. NEDS stands for Non- Educated Delinquents. Mullan first heard the term as a kid. ‘It was a put-down. You’d batter people if they called you a Ned because it had implications that you were thick and no self-respecting Ned liked people thinking they were thick, even if you were kind of actively lobotomising yourself, because you didn’t ever want to seem clever either. ‘It was like that classic John Lennon line: “They hate you if you’re clever, and they despise a fool.” So you had to find a middle ground. I was a big reader, but I used to hide that fact from everyone.’

We drive over into Pollok looking for the bridge where Mullan shot some of the running knife battles that feature in the film. The reality of gang territoriality, he explains, is that crews would fight over patches of land that could start and end on a street corner. He needed something a bit more graphic for the film, a visual way to separate the rival schemes.

20 Jan–3 Feb 2011 THE LIST 15