Socialist Worker

A very bitter sweet sixteen

by Vicky Williamson
Issue No. 1820

SWEET SIXTEEN is the latest film by director Ken Loach. His films always focus on the struggles of working class people to survive when all the odds are stacked against them. This film is no exception. Liam's mum, Jean, is in prison but she will be released in time for his 16th birthday.

All Liam wants is the kind of settled, safe family life he's only ever been able to dream of. The problem is that for Liam, his mum and his sister to be safe from the wasters that have dominated their lives, he needs cash. This isn't easy for a broke teenager, especially when he's stuck living with his mother's drug dealer boyfriend and his own violent grandfather.

Liam is a bright and talented lad, and he and his friends already run inventive scams to get money. But he is trapped in a situation where the only opportunities he has to make money mean digging himself deeper into trouble. There is no easy way out. The closest relationship in the film is between Liam and his older sister Chantelle, played by Annmarie Fulton.

Chantelle is a young single mother. She is not as naive as Liam, and tries to keep him out of trouble. The film is brilliantly written and acted, especially by 17 year old Martin Compston who plays Liam. It is filmed in the style often used by Loach that gives the impression that you are watching from the doorway.

This makes the audience feel more involved and adds tension. The film is set in ugly slums and the beautiful scenery along the Clyde estuary. The scenery influences the characters, so when Liam needs to think he goes to the river.

Ken Loach has been making films about real people's lives since the 1960s and he is a master at it. This film captures the claustrophobic feeling of people struggling against violence and poverty.

It is a funny, sad and bitter film that sympathises completely with its characters while utterly condemning the choices open to them.

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Sat 5 Oct 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1820
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