The Film Formula: Filth

The Film Formula: Filth

We discover the different elements behind the James McAvoy-starring crime movie

The Film Formula is our new series aimed at boiling down big releases to their most basic elements. This time round, it’s Filth

When it comes to movies about bobbies behaving badly – and James McAvoy's Bruce Robertson, the protagonist in Filth, is as despicable as they come – it's hard not to mention the coppers who were so bad, they named the film(s) after them. Harvey Keitel's coke-snorting, crack-smoking turn in Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant was a powerhouse performance, while Nic Cage made the role his own in Werner Herzog's follow-up, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. Like Robertson, these badge-wearing baddies are absolutely riddled with addictions and disorders – perhaps not the best mix for those in positions of authority.

Just as you can't mention bad cops without mentioning Keitel and Cage, you can't mention Irvine Welsh adaptations without mentioning Trainspotting. There's a fair dose of Danny Boyle's career-making movie's DNA Filth, not least for its narcotic-fuelled plot turns and Edinburgh setting. It features another ensemble of colourful characters who, while perhaps not as depraved as Robertson, have their own demons to battle, from Pollyanna McIntosh's be-lingerie'd madam to Jamie Bell's coked-up cop.

Talking of Bell, it's not the first time he's trotted around the streets of Edinburgh on film. 2007 drama Hallam Foe had the Billy Elliot star scrambling around the city rooftops and peeping in on people having sex, all while dealing with the grief of losing his mother – a bundle of sex and neurosis that also chimes well with the themes of Filth.

Eddie Marsan also pops up in a sterling supporting role that's not unlike his turn as Peter in The World's End. Like Peter, Filth's Clifford 'Bladesey' Blades is mild-mannered by nature, with a tendency to hero-worship those who are most likely to lead him astray. In The World's End, it's Simon Pegg's Gary King who leads Peter on an ill-advised drinking binge; in Filth, Bruce Robertson goes a step further, spiking Bladesey's drink on a debauched trip to Hamburg.

Finally, Filth is not a film that's strictly rooted in realism: there are several nightmarish sequences that explore the darker recesses of Robertson's psyche, and certain scenes – especially those featuring Robertson in consultation with his psychiatrist, Dr Rossi (Jim Broadbent) – have a heightened sense of the bizarrely theatrical, not unlike the warped flights of fancy portrayed by Terry Gilliam in Brazil. It doesn't hurt that Broadbent also showed up as a white-coated loon in that either.

(Hallam Foe + The World's End) x (Trainspotting x Brazil) / Bad Lieutenant2 = Filth

FILTH - Official International Trailer (Unrated)


  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • UK
  • 1h 37min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Jon S. Baird
  • Cast: James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots
  • UK release: 4 October 2013

Adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel about a bigoted junkie cop who battles his way in an attempt to win back his wife and daughter.