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    Young Adam

    Scot in the act

    "Young Adam" is a lusty adaptation of Alexander Trocchi's cult novel about what happens when a hot Scot barges into a canal-going couple's waterlogged marriage.


    Scottish director David MacKenzie makes films you've never heard of.

    Written and directed by: David Mackenzie.
    Adapted from the novel by: Alexander Trocchi.
    Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, Therese Bradley, Ewan Stewart, Stuart McQuarrie, Pauline Turner, Alan Cooke, Rory McCann, Ian Hanmore, Andrew Neil.
    Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens.
    Edited by: Colin Monie.
    Music by: David Byrne.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    "California Sunshine," "Somersault," "Marcie's Dowry," "The Last Great Wilderness," and now "Young Adam," based on the seminal Beat narrative by Alexander Trocchi. Only this time around, MacKenzie's attached some major talent to the project in the guises of Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, and Emily Mortimer. OK, so maybe only Obi-Wan McGregor's name rings any immediate bells but he's a logical choice to play the listless, sexual predator of Trocchi's cult novel.

    It's Scotland (once again) in the 1960s. A period piece this, although you could never tell it from the bleak, blue-gray hues of Giles Nuttgens's unsparing cinematography. Ella Gault (Swinton), barge owner, beleaguered wife, and mother of one, peels potatoes, darns socks, and swabs the decks as she and her husband Les (Mullan) trawl the canals and locks between Edinburgh and Glasgow, hauling coal and other fossil fuels. They've taken on a young drifter, Joe (McGregor, replete with penis), who shovels the black gold, reads Literature, and enjoys more than the occasional post-coital cigarette. From the looks he's giving Ella and she him — often over dinner in the Captain's dimly lit and wafer-thin hold as Les sups his tea, son Jim (Jack McElhone) eats his chips, and Joe starts caressing Ella's thigh — it won't be long before they're savoring one of those p.c. ciggies together.

    Young Adam  
    Sure enough, with Les barely out of earshot, Ella and Joe go at it, NC-17 style, and we flash back to moments from Joe's recent past, a dissolute relationship with a lovely and amazing office worker ("Lovely & Amazing's" Mortimer), soon stripping down to her diaphanous, soon-to-be-muddied petticoat. "Young Adam" — the title is euphemistic, not literal — is set at a time and a place where washed-up nudity assumes foul play on the part of the locals, whose blatherings down the pub inform young Joe that the authorities have found their murderer, a plumber, married at that, not long after Joe and Les fished a lightly-attired — but very much deceased — body out of the coaly Clyde.

      Young Adam
    There's an intensity about the film that draws us in, heightened by the expressive and passionate performances of its leads (no real surprises there). The sex is prevalent, dirty, and realistic (too realistic it would seem, hence the MPAA rating — Glaswegians, it would appear, tend to favor the great outdoors), with a particularly eye-opening sequence featuring condiments on all fours, a Francis Bacon-styled union that brings to mind "Last Tango's" buttering uppers and "Bad Timing's" photographic downers. Needless to say, I'm not sure how I'll react the next time me Mum asks if I'd like custard on my tart.

    In time "Young Adam" gets a bit silly — Joe can barely look at another woman without whipping out that willie of his — but the journey there is, it turns out, something you can touch with a ten-foot pole. It's a brooding, smoldering study of sexual intensity grittily realized by the kind of actors who slip, almost unnoticed, into these roles and make them their own.

    MAY 25, 2004

    Reader comments on Young Adam:

  • young adam   from mari, Jan 18, 2006
  • hello   from ANNABELLE, Apr 24, 2008
  • what's up   from lisa, Jun 24, 2008

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