Back in 1998, when no student house looked furnished without a Trainspotting poster on the wall, Irvine Welsh’s new novel arrived on bestseller lists riding a wave of industry buzz.
Then everyone discovered how scabrous it was: the story of an overambitious Lothian cop who gleefully plots the downfall of his best friends, forces underage witnesses to give him blow jobs and drowns his crippling self-loathing in coke, booze and autoerotic asphyxiation.
All of which is narrated by his own tapeworm. Jon S. Baird’s brave adaptation arrives 15 years too late to steal any thunder from Danny Boyle’s Cool Britannia classic, but it emerges as the more mature film (in every sense).
Baird’s boisterous direction deserves some of the credit, but most of it belongs to James McAvoy.
After spending much of his career playing amiable nice guys, the former Mr Tumnus turns Detective Sergeant Robertson into one of the nastiest little shits the movies have ever seen – a modern-day Iago who screams, seethes and bares his horrifying, hollow soul.
It’s a career-best performance from McAvoy, so intense it occasionally threatens to unbalance the film.
Needless to say, Filth isn’t an easy watch. Thankfully, Robertson’s black and white worldview is choked with colourful characters – from Eddie Marsan’s shuffling stooge to Jim Broadbent’s nightmarish tapeworm surrogate – keeping Filth’s alcopop energy and twisted sense of humour rising above the grubby underbelly.
It might leave you feeling like you need a bath straight afterwards, but a film (and a performance) this incendiary is well worth the wallow.
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