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Film Review: Young Adam

Posted on the 24 February 2013 by Donnambr @_mrs_b

About Young Adam (2003)Young AdamDavid MacKenzie’s adaptation of Alexander Trocchi’s novel. Whilst traveling on a barge between Glasgow and Edinburgh, drifter Joe (Ewan McGregor) and his boss Les (Peter Mullan) discover a woman’s corpse in the water and Joe pulls her out. On the surface, Joe does not appear to be distressed by the situation – even with all the police investigation on-going – and gets on with his work on the barge. But his behavior starts to become erratic when he embarks on an affair with Leslie’s wife Ella (Tilda Swinton) and flashbacks reveal his link to the dead woman (Emily Mortimer).


Starring: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone

Directed by: David Mackenzie

Runtime: 94 minutes

Studio: Warner Home Video

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Review: Young Adam 

David Mackenzie’s bleak drama is set on the canals of 1950s Scotland where drifter, Joe (Ewan McGregor) is currently working on a barge owned by Les (Peter Mullan) and Ella Gault (Tilda Swinton). At the outset Joe and Les find the near naked body of a young woman drifting in the canal and lift her from the water before notifying the police. Continuing their work and operating between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Joe seduces Ella into a passionate affair while the media is gripped by the death of the girl in the canal, a girl Joe knows from his past.

We learn of Joe’s involvement with the dead girl, Cathie (Emily Mortimer), through a series of flashbacks but the circumstances leading up to her death are left till near the end. While Joe keeps quiet about knowing Cathie he pursues Ella who is sexually frustrated with her husband due to his incessant drinking. She and Joe begin an affair, snatching moments alone whenever Les’ back is turned. As the police investigate the death of Cathie they find a suspect for her murder, a plumber Daniel (Ewan Gordon). Will Joe come forward and reveal what he knows about Cathie? What involvement did he have in her death? What is he hiding?


This was a well-acted drama with the grim life on the barges well-conveyed through back breaking and filthy work Joe and Les endure, while Ella is a strong, independent woman, running both the business and trying to keep her family together. What begins as a simple affair with Joe blossoms as the time passes but does Joe feel the same? The characters are not the most likable with Joe being easy on the eye for women but he’s easily maladjusted and never settles harmoniously for long. The ending continues the bleak outlook that reverberates throughout the film. There are no winners by the film’s conclusion. Though we have the answers to the questions raised at the start it’s an unhappy denouement.


Young Adam is a gritty drama with an intriguing plot, carefully built through Joe’s flashbacks. A good cast handle proceedings well though the film’s conclusion is not a completely satisfying one with the lives of the characters changed but certainly not for the better.

Verdict: 4/5

(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)

Film Review: Young Adam | Thank you for reading Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dave

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