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Small Faces (1995)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Small Faces (1995)
35mm, 108 minutes, colour
DirectorGillies MacKinnon
Production CompanyBBC Films;
 Glasgow Film Fund
ProducersBilly MacKinnon
 Steve Clark-Hall
ScreenplayGillies MacKinnon
 Billy MacKinnon
CinematographyJohn De Borman
MusicJohn Keane

Cast: Iain Robertson (Lex Maclean); Joseph McFadden (Alan Maclean); J.S. Duffy (Bobby Maclean); Laura Fraser (Joanne Macgowan); Garry Sweeney (Charlie Sloan); Clare Higgins (Lorna Maclean); Kevin McKidd (Malky Johnson)

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Three teenage brothers become perilously entangled in a violent rivalry between two Glasgow gangs after an accidental shooting incident sets off a chain of events beyond their control.

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A conscious return to his roots after an ill-fated flirtation with Hollywood, Gillies Mackinnon's Small Faces (1995) is a disquieting tale of brutal youth, set in a working-class Glasgow slum during the late 1960s.

From a script co-written with brother Billy, this bleakly compelling film employs poetic flushes, artful direction and a refreshingly fresh-faced cast to evoke the turbulent world of the Mackinnons' own youth. At times darkly comic, the chilling realities of Glasgow street-life are skilfully combined with the familiar trappings of adolescence to create a tense, powerful drama.

In a neighbourhood overrun by gang warfare, violence lurks constantly beneath the surface, frequently spilling over to the doorstep of the Macleans' cramped apartment. The misery extends to those unwittingly caught up in the crossfire, such as Alan's (Joseph McFadden) artist friend Fabio (David Walker), who is randomly jumped on outside his house. Against this backdrop of random brutality, we witness the destabilising impact on the lives of the three Maclean siblings, as seen through the eyes of youngest brother Lex (Iain Robertson).

Intelligent but in desperate need of guidance, Lex is captured at a uniquely vulnerable age, where he risks being drawn into a spiralling wave of crime and violence. He fails to comprehend the broader implications of his actions, from childish vices like shoplifting, to the reckless shooting of notorious gang leader Malky Johnson (Kevin McKidd), which brings about his early indoctrination into gang life.

Confronted with a stark choice between following in the destructive footsteps of rudderless brother Bobby (J.S. Duffy), or using his intelligence and artistic instincts as a means of escaping from his circumstances like brother Alan, Lex appears torn between the two. Widowed mother Lorna (Clare Higgins) struggles to exert a steadying influence on her confused son, but is powerless to tame his stubbornly independent spirit.

This sombre, essentially uncommercial movie proved a hit with critics, though its gritty take on downtrodden Glasgow youth was ultimately to be eclipsed by the release of Zeitgeist-defining Scottish hit Trainspotting (d. Danny Boyle, 1996). Nevertheless, in its amoral representation of the blurred distinctions between childhood and adulthood, Small Faces unquestionably hits a nerve. In a particularly poignant scene, we see Lex happily participating in a children's sing-a-long, a tantalisingly brief reaquaintance with an innocence abruptly cut short. By the film's violent climax, however, we are grimly aware of how immature exploits can quickly escalate to tragedy.

Darren Lee

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Video Clips
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Production stills
MacKinnon, Gillies (1948-)
Teen Terrors On Film