rating: 2.5Its a tough climate lately for independent British cinema. With funding cut to the UK Film Council (one of the primary bodies for film investment in the UK) these past few years have been a rather bleak period for moving image this side of the pond. As a worker in the industry myself, I always rejoice a little when something British comes along with a budget, however paltry, and I actually followed Screwed as it was being produced. It certainly has potential; based on the best-selling British novel by Ronnie Thompson it was directed by current British hotshot Reg Traviss (helmer of Joy Division) and contains a whole host of British faces that youll likely have seen repeatedly on the British terrestrial channels. Screwed tells the semi-autobiographical story of novel author Ronnie Thompson and his experiences while working in some of the UKs worst prisons. Upon returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, ex-squaddie Sam Norwood (James DArcy) finds that the only lines of work open to him are either dealing drugs or a career in the British prison system; showing an early strength of will he opts for the latter. But when on the inside he starts to crack under the constant pressure of duress from the inmates, bent screws and a self-serving governor. Falling into a spiralling pit of depression he turns to alcohol and drugs in order to cope but this only leads to further woes. As paranoia sets in, he starts to suspect a fellow guard of conspiring with the cons, a betrayal that he denies- but everything may not be exactly as it seems. Screwed admittedly has an interesting premise at the root, albeit nothing that hasnt been previously explored (try Scum as a definitive prison drama) but its actual plot descends into the nonsensical at times, despite been derived from a nugget of truth. Sam is arrested and put under investigation, for example, when accused of assaulting a prisoner even though weve previously witnessed his innocence. But when he unloads his anger onto one of the cons in front of everyone, there are no following consequences. There are a few moments like this peppered throughout Screwed that underneath their surface intensity pose more questions than they answer. That being said, I suppose Screwed is intended to be character driven, in which case the actual plot (the events in-world) arguably arent as important as the story (the protagonists emotional journey through said events). All the hallmarks of a character driven narrative are there; only a few intimate locations; a focus on the emotional state of the protagonist and characters usually reacting to other characters as opposed to some conflict thrown at them by the plot. True there are moments throughout Screwed where Sam teeters over the genuinely interesting but hes ultimately too scarcely drawn in the script to be considered so. Without a truly cohesive plot, hes relied upon to carry the brunt of the narrative, but were never made to care enough about him for Screwed to be a triumphant character driven drama. You might remember lead actor James DArcy from Peter Weirs Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Hes great at conveying a sense of false discipline - steely on the outside but shaking like a child internally and he can cry on cue which is a must here. Unfortunately the seemingly weak writing forces him into dramatic corners whereby he nails the characters emotional state even when the script doesnt. Theres a scene in which Sam breaks down in tears in front of his estranged wife (Kate Magowan) both actors perform admirably but the dialogue guffs out cliché after cliché (Im right here, Im not going anywhere and more to that effect which, lets face it, is of British Soap Opera quality). Backing up DArcy is a slew of British names, with notable performances from Jamie Foreman (Layer Cake) who plays Sams commanding officer and Frank Harper (Football Factory) who turns the dishevelled, cocaine-addled fellow guard Deano with his characteristic air of insidious aggression. Noel Clarke (Centurion, Doctor Who) plays the most influential of all the prisons convicts but again the script betrays him by giving him lines of dialogue that know too much about the emotional state of the protagonist, as if the character himself had read the script. Screwed isnt the worst British film by a huge margin, but its nowhere near the top of the pile either. There are scenes throughout which contain considerable dramatic power, mainly through the first act and bleeding into to the second, when Norrington starts to settle in as a screw. Ultimately though, the script seems to lose control of itself throughout the latter portion of the second and most of the third act. Its main problem is that it doesnt seem to be sure exactly what it wants to be; is it a character driven story? Well not exactly, although it does bear massive similarities to one. Is it plot driven? Not exactly either, although toward the final scenes Sam is reacts only to a suddenly emerging, but clumsy, convoluted plot. In short, its something of a conceptual mess; both too haphazard to be artful and too thoughtful to be popcorn fodder.