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Out of Control (2002)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Out of Control (2002)
BBC1, 15/9/2002
90 minutes, colour
DirectorDominic Savage
Production CompanyBBC Films
Executive ProducerDavid M. Thompson
ProducerRuth Caleb
ScreenplayDominic Savage
PhotographyBarry Ackroyd

Cast: Tamzin Outhwaite (Dean's mother); David Morrissey (Mike); Leo Gregory (Sam); Danny Young (Dean); Akemnji Ndifernyan (Daniel); Bronson Webb (Charlie Boy)

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Three teenage boys find themselves at the mercy of the criminal justice system.

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Out of Control was the dramatic centrepiece of the BBC's 'Cracking Crime' season, which offered a realistic look at contemporary UK crime. In charting the progress of three individuals arriving at a young offenders' institution, Dominic Savage's gruelling improvised drama brings to mind Alan Clarke's borstal nightmare Scum, deemed too strong for broadcast by the BBC in 1977. Like Clarke, Savage excels when examining the hierarchy of both inmates and officers. Hardened criminal Sam's blind determination to become 'top boy' recalls Carlin's quest to become 'the daddy' in Scum. At the other end of the pecking order, the bullied Dean's tragic fate has its own counterpoint in the successive rape and suicide of Scum's Davis.

Savage's film presents an even-handed portrait of its characters (even the sneering Sam wins some sympathy after a grim phone conversation with his mother) and of the young offenders' institution itself. While the system clearly fails Dean, Raymond and Danny become spokesmen for its potential to rehabilitate. Still, Savage brilliantly captures the bleakness of the location, frequently using tight close-ups to reveal how the characters are hemmed in by their surroundings. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd lights the institution in pale shades of grey and blue, the hollow and metallic ring of the haunting score amplifying the chill of his photography.

A former child actor (he starred in Barry Lyndon, d. Stanley Kubrick, 1975), Savage proved himself a skilled chronicler of adolescent alienation and despair with his earlier films, Nice Girl (BBC, tx, 11/5/2000) and When I was 12 (BBC, tx. 26/9/2001). Reflecting upon the accidental pregnancy that made him a teenaged father, a character in Nice Girl reflects that it was "too much too young" - a recurrent refrain in the director's work. Parenthood is a key theme in Out of Control, too. All three main characters have absent fathers; Dean's and Danny's are never mentioned, while Sam's dad publicly rejects him. In their place, Savage presents a surrogate father, Mike, the officer who takes new arrivals under his wing.

Danny himself becomes a father while serving his sentence and decides to pursue honest work to provide for his family. Savage is optimistic enough to include this hopeful closing note but not so naïve as to stray away from reality. The film's sobering final image, of a belligerent and clearly unrepentant Sam prowling the streets, reminds us that around eight out of ten inmates re-offend upon release.

Chris Wiegand

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Video Clips
1. A walk in the park (3:21)
2. New boy (5:06)
3. Phoning home (2:17)
Boys in Brown (1949)
Cosh Boy (1953)
Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)
Feltham Sings (2002)
Scum (1977)
Ackroyd, Barry (1954-)
TV Drama in the 2000s
The Television Play