17 Oct

Directors, it may be time to hang up your hat and admit defeat – we’ve got ourselves a winner. Yes, such a blatantly outlandish claim is perhaps not the best way to start a supposedly objective review, allowing the reader to make up their own mind about a film but frankly, I do not care. Shameis incredible.

Returning Michael Fassbender into the more than capable hands of Steve McQueen, who directed the equally harrowing Hunger, Shame is perhaps one of the most hotly anticipated films of this year’s BFI London Film Festival. Brandon (Fassbender) is a (too) attractive, high-powered man, whose piercing eyes, chiselled bone structure and flushing effect on women on the subway permits you to believe everything is well in his life. But then if life and cinema has taught us anything it is that we can often be very wrong when judging how the other person lives.

Set over a few days, Shame tantalizes us with truths about Brandon’s life and past but never once allows us to know anything outside what lies on the surface; a quick succession of seduction, internet porn, masturbation in the toilets and hotel room call girls. But when Sissy (Carey Mulligan), his younger tearaway sister, pays him a surprise visit we are granted access to the Brandon who existed before he was led by what resides in his trousers. Then again, she gets to see what exists outside their family life in New Jersey.

Carey Mulligan, once again, gives an incredible performance bringing a dichotomous vulnerability and fire to Sissy that when placed alongside her big brother, suggests a girl on the edge of collapse. Her prolonged rendition of New York, New York, is heart stopping, as McQueen draws on Mulligan’s humble talents as a singer to build on her vulnerability and also reduce a grown man to tears. It seems there really isn’t a role Mulligan can play badly.

While the subject matter of sex addiction and denial are explicit, as are many of the scenes themselves, the film avoids becoming seedy and debauched. McQueen’s masterful directing and control of the characters and their every situation portrays this lifestyle as just that – one of many styles of life that while the audience may not personally choose to undertake, we are not ones to judge. Perhaps it is that we are over sensitized to sex, or maybe it is just that it is our interest in Brandon that is aroused rather than our more primal urges. However these two are certainly not mutually exclusive…

Shame is a character driven film, driven to success by Steve McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan (Brick Lane) whose collective back catalogue of insightful, almost anthropological, studies of human behaviour leave them more than qualified to delve into even the most disturbed psyches. The cyclical framing of the film is beautiful, creating a sadness but leaving the final thought  – and hope -with the audience – can Brandon ever break free of his self-destructive ways?

In a world where sex is one of the most accessible commodities, Shame presents an unflinching look into the dark side, taking us beneath the sheets and pressing us up against a force that has the power to truly make us scream – whether in ecstasy, or pain, and sometimes, this is a fine line to cross.

Shame was screened at the 55th BFI London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) as part of the Film on the Square strand, on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 October.

(As featured on


One Response to “Shame”

  1. Laura Marie Scott October 17, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    I wanted to go and see this while I was in London this weekend, but by the time I looked into it the tickets were all sold out. I’ve been looking forward to this film a lot since Hunger is so amazing, I’m glad to read a positive review of it and this just makes me even more eager to see it !

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