Starred Up – reviews of gritty new British prison drama

Mar 21, 2014

Skins actor Jack O'Connell wows critics with his 'powder-keg' performance in tough prison drama

What you need to know New British prison drama Starred Up opens in UK cinemas today. David Mackenzie (Young Adam) directs the film written by former prison counsellor Jonathan Asser.

Skins actor Jack O'Connell stars as Eric, a 19 year-old convict transferring from a young offenders institution to an adult prison. Eric is a troublemaker who seems destined for a life or violent death behind bars, but the prison counsellor (Homeland's Rupert Friend) and Eric's father (Ben Mendelsohn), already a long-serving inmate, want to change that. 

What the critics like "This is a brutal, immersive prison survival story with a breakout performance by British actor Jack O'Connell," says Damon Wise in Empire. It's a tough watch, but Mackenzie's film is a necessary snapshot of our times, not just a great prison movie but a devastating critique of a society that cares little for its young and underprivileged.

"Young actor Jack O'Connell is the main attraction in this tough British drama," says Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. A handsome, tautly built powder keg, his performance is so volatile and scary that you never know when he'll pop next and what he might do.

Starred Up is "an instant classic of the prison movie genre, that makes a bona fide breakthrough star of its lead Jack O'Connell", says Jessica Kiang on Indiewire. Amazing performances and themes of fathers and sons, generational sins and institutional cruelty give a grand scope to as fine an exemplar of its genre as we've seen.

What they don't like "Eventually Starred Up evolves into a familiar prison exercise – a road to redemption with service station breaks that allow Eric to get into more fights," says Siobhan Synnot in The Scotsman. Still, the journey is an absorbing one with some terrific performances, and some surprising reveals.         

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