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UK 2002
Directed by
Ken Loach
106 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Ruth Williams
3.5 stars

Sweet Sixteen

Synopsis: Liam (Martin Compston) has big plans for his future. His mother, Jean (Michelle Coulter) is due to get out of prison in a few weeks. He is convinced that if only they had a decent place to live, and he could escape the violent drug-riddled life of his mum’s boyfriend and his callous grandfather, he would be able to achieve the kind of life he has only dared to imagine. Unfortunately, he doesn’t factor in how the other players see their part in this new life. There’s his best friend, Pinball (William Ruane), his sister Chantelle (Annemarie Fulton) and her four-year old son, Callum. Throw in a few drug dealers and pizza delivery guys and suddenly an easier life doesn’t seem so easy.

Don’t you love a film title that simply drips with irony? In many ways, Liam is the antithesis of a person who would be considered sweet. But then, maybe that’s because our idea of what sweet sixteen implies, is based on a diet of cheesy television shows. If we can look passed the visits he makes to the pub with his mate, Pinball, to flog their cheap fags, and ignore the fact that he is no longer welcomed at his local school it is possible to see that he has his own brand of sweetness. How he manages to retain any softness is a miracle considering the environment in which he has grown up. A visit to his mother in prison reveals the corruption and brutality of the men in his family. What hope does he have?

That is the question. What hope does he have? A young man is forced into a life of crime out of his love for his mother and his determination to provide her with a better life. Sound familiar? As the story of this young boy was unfolding on the screen, I thought of Ned Kelly's story. I suppose it could be placed under an even more universal theme; the seemingly noble sacrifice of one’s own life for the good of another. Where Ned was hung for his efforts, Liam is left on the sand at the edge of the river, contemplating the turn of events that will land him straight back in the thick of the life he so vehemently wanted to escape.

Sweet Sixteen is not a happy film, but then again Ken Loach does not have a reputation for providing his audience with twee endings. There is love there, however. Although the love Liam has for his mother is sadly misplaced, the affection his sister Chantelle holds for him has a past and a future. Unfortunately, he is too young to see past his fantasy of happy families. Martin Compston, in the lead role, is, surprisingly, an untrained actor. His performance is strong and totally believable. You could see this film as being depressing, as much of it is. At the heart of it, however, is the desire for a better life. Even though Liam may have blown any opportunity for this, Chantelle’s determination to break free, if only for the sake of her son, suggests that disadvantage can be overcome, and if anyone can do it, it’s going to be her.




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