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Former Skins star Jack O'Connell headlines prison drama Starred Up

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Former Skins star Jack O'Connell headlines gritty Brit drama Starred Up, out in Cineworld this Friday 21 March.

Having spent most of his troubled life in young offenders’ institutions, Eric (O’Connell) finds himself in an adult prison for the first time. Also imprisoned, Eric’s father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) is determined to prevent the bullish but vulnerable young man from becoming trapped in a cycle of ever-increasing violence.

A story of conflicted family ties in a dog-eat-dog environment, director David Mackenzie’s compelling drama made its acclaimed debut at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival. Although the film is fictional, its gritty realism is based on the real experiences of screenwriter Jonathan Asser, a poet and psychotherapist who worked in prison for 12 years. “I worked with violent prisoners,” he says, “and de-escalated the violence so it wouldn’t get passed down the line to another prison or the community.”

Playing a young man who’s grown up knowing only violence, ex-Skins star O’Connell startles in this breakout performance. Ben Mendelsohn (recently seen in Killing Them Softly and Animal Kingdom) also impresses as the fearsome Neville, while Rupert Friend provides strong support as Oliver, the prison counselor who attempts to help Eric.

Despite its brutal trappings, Mackenzie says Starred Up is rooted in its father-son relationship. “At the centre of the film, there’s a softness and a tenderness between two people,” he explained at the film’s premiere. “That’s what gives the film an emotional heart… What I’m proud of is that it’s hard on the outside and soft on the inside.”

Starred Up is released on 21 March.