Filth review

McAvoy is the wrong arm of the law

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By a country mile the best Irvine Welsh adaptation since Trainspotting , this take on his 1998 book is everything fans could want. Dark, depraved and deeply funny, it sees director Jon S. Baird capturing Welsh’s spirit, from its relentless pace to its soaring soundtrack.

Of course, it helps he’s got James McAvoy on hand, delivering a tour de force as Filth ’s foul anti-hero, Bruce Robertson. A self-serving Detective Sergeant in the Lothian constabulary, Bruce makes Bad Lieutenant look like a virginal vicar as he shags, snorts and schemes his way around Edinburgh, feeding his out-of-control addictions and monstrous libido.

The only time he’s focused is when he “plays the game” – plotting against colleagues, even coked-up chum Ray (Jamie Bell), in an increasingly desperate bid for promotion.

While the murder of a Japanese student nominally drives the plot, what really motors the movie is Bruce’s mental and physical decay. He may be married and have a daughter, but he thinks nothing of indulging in (very) rough sex with the spouse (Kate Dickie) of another policeman or taunting Bunty (Shirley Henderson), wife to his freemason friend Clifford Blades (Eddie Marsan), with lurid prank calls.

All bleary eyes and bad skin, McAvoy is nothing short of sensational here – it’s as if he’s been possessed by Satan himself. Yet as dark as Filth gets, Baird – whose only previous credit is the 2008 football hooligan tale Cass – allows Welsh’s gallows humour to flourish.

Some of it is puerile (fart gags and Frank Sidebottom). Some of it is hysterical (a cock-comparing competition at the Christmas party; or the Hamburg interlude, where Bruce and Clifford indulge in a debauched weekend). Indeed, the sight of an Ecstasy-high Eddie Marsan raving to Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ is enough to keep the demons from totally enveloping the story.

Not everything works, notably the way Baird deals with the book’s most tricky element – the talking tapeworm that grows inside Bruce. In the worm’s stead we get fantasy sequences with an Aussie-voiced psychiatrist (Jim Broadbent), making for an awkward swap.

But such is the strength of McAvoy and the verve of Baird, it’s impossible not to get sucked into Bruce’s troubled, and sometimes touching, universe. While it doesn’t nail the zeitgeist like Trainspotting , it was never meant to. Filth is simply a raucous ride through one man’s messed-up mind. You won’t want to get off.


With McAvoy acting as if his life depends on it, Filth is the Irvine Welsh film we’ve been waiting years for. Tastier than a deep-fried Mars Bar…

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Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.