Sweet Sixteen (2002 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sweet Sixteen
Sweet sixteen film.jpg
Directed byKen Loach
Written byPaul Laverty
Produced byRebecca O'Brien
StarringMartin Compston
Annmarie Fulton
William Ruane
CinematographyBarry Ackroyd
Edited byJonathan Morris
Music byGeorge Fenton
Distributed byIcon Film Distribution
Release dates
  • 21 May 2002 (2002-05-21) (Cannes)
  • 4 October 2002 (2002-10-04) (UK)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguagesEnglish, Scots
Box office$316,319[1]

Sweet Sixteen is a 2002 British drama film directed by Ken Loach. Set in Scotland, the film tells the story of Liam, a teenage boy from a troubled background who dreams of starting afresh with his mother as soon as she has completed her prison term. Liam's attempts to raise money for the two of them are set against the backdrop of the Inverclyde towns of Greenock, Port Glasgow and the coast at Gourock. As of April 2022, the film is available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

The film is often shown with subtitles because, as with many of Loach's films, the dialogue is extensively in a local dialect, in this case the Inverclyde variant of Scottish English and Scots,[2] a similar dialect and accent to Glaswegian.[3]


In a few weeks, Scottish teenager Liam will turn 16. The film opens with him using his tripod-mounted telescope outdoors on a clear night to show other children the stars and planets. He and his friends exemplify the violent "ned" subculture; they no longer attend school, but instead, hang around isolated areas or wander about all day long. They get money by illicitly selling untaxed cigarettes in a pub, and defy the police. Liam's mother is currently in prison, for a crime she did not commit. She will be released in a few weeks, in time for her son's 16th birthday. She has a boyfriend named Stan, who works as a drug dealer with Liam's grandfather, Rab.

Stan and Rab take Liam in Rab's car on a visit to his mother in Cornton Vale Prison, and try to force him to smuggle drugs to his mother while they create a distraction. In the event, Liam refuses to cooperate by passing the drugs over. When driving home his companions beat him up; he fights back and gets away. Liam arrives back to find that he has been expelled from his grandfather's flat, and his belongings thrown down into the front garden (including his telescope, which has been broken). Liam then moves to his sister Chantelle's nearby home in Port Glasgow. Chantelle agrees to let Liam live in her house if he's good to Chantelle's little son, Calum. She has been taking free evening classes to get work in a call centre, and implores Liam to do the same because she wants Liam to do something more 'constructive' with his own life.

When Liam takes Calum for a walk along Greenock Esplanade, his friend Pinball arrives in a stolen car and insists on taking them joyriding along the coast. They drive up through the Cloch caravan (trailer) park where Liam sees a caravan for sale in a spot overlooking the scenic Firth of Clyde. Liam, who loves his mother very much, fantasizes that he, his sister, and his mother can escape to the seaside and live in the caravan, away from Stan and Rab's wrath. To purchase it he and Pinball steal a delivery of drugs from Stan's house and sell them, doing the very things Liam once hated – claiming that they will never get anywhere by selling cheap cigarettes. They soon develop 'entrepreneur skills' and raise several thousand pounds, which they pay as a deposit towards the caravan in Liam's mother's name.

Liam's efforts attract the attention of the local drug 'godfather', Tony Douglas. Liam, who only wanted a peaceful life with his mother, agrees to work with them after the local godfather tells him to 'stay away from our shops'. Pinball, meanwhile, is thrown into the health club showers due to his disrespectful manner towards the dealer, and vows revenge. Liam and Pinball carry on selling drugs to the local area, with the help of Liam's other friends who deliver pizzas. Liam and Pinball meet again with members of the drug godfather's gang, and Liam joins them in their car. Pinball is kicked out, angering him further; the gang members advise Liam to 'dump' Pinball for good. They take Liam to a Glasgow nightclub and instruct him that he has to kill someone to join the gang. Liam attempts to do so, but is stopped by the gang, who inform him it was a test (which he has passed).

Liam, Chantelle, Calum and Suzanne (Chantelle's friend) drive to the caravan to have a picnic, only to discover that it has been burned down. Liam believes it was Stan who did it, and throws a rock through his window. That evening, Pinball turns up in Douglas's (stolen) car, telling Liam that he wants revenge. He proceeds to crash the car into the health club. Liam speaks to the godfather in the morning and, to his chagrin, is ordered to "take care of" the Pinball problem (i.e. to kill his friend). The next morning, Pinball—aware of Liam's intentions—first tries to stab Liam, then proudly tells him that he's the one who burnt down the caravan, not Stan. He then cuts his own face in rage. Liam is seen reassuring his injured friend after phoning for an ambulance, but in the next scene he notifies the godfather that the deed has "been done", leaving a viewer to infer that he has indeed murdered his friend.[4][5]

Douglas promises to buy Liam an upscale apartment, and on the day before his birthday Liam's mother is released from the prison and taken to this new house on the coast of Gourock where she is welcomed with a party. She appears uneasy, and the next morning is found to have escaped to Stan's house. Liam blames this on Chantelle. Chantelle, now fully aware that Liam is dealing drugs, attempts to warn her little brother about their mother probably not being so thankful for Liam's efforts because she is too devoted to Stan, but this only provokes Liam even further. An enraged Liam goes to Stan's house, trying to convince his mother to go back to their new home, only to receive insults from Stan. In a struggle, Liam stabs Stan.

Liam is then seen walking alone on the stony beach. He is phoned by Chantelle, who reminds him that the day is his 16th birthday. She also tells him that the police have been looking for him, but that after everything that he has done, Chantelle still loves him. He walks towards the sea.




The premiere of Sweet Sixteen was at the UGC in central Glasgow on 1 October 2002.[6] Sweet Sixteen received very positive reviews, currently holding a 97% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 88 critics; the consensus states: "A bleak, but heartbreaking coming-of-age tale that resonates with truth."[7] Sweet Sixteen was nominated for the Palme d'Or and won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. Sweet Sixteen inspired Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla for the 2007 song Liam.

Criticism of BBFC classification[edit]

Use of the words fuck (313 times) and cunt (about 20 times) led the British Board of Film Classification to forbid the film to viewers under the age of 18. Spain followed this decision, but other countries, like France and Germany (not under 12) had a different rating system. Loach and Paul Laverty protested against the British procedure in The Guardian newspaper.[8]

Laverty asserted that this was "censorship" and "class prejudice" because he got a lot of information to write his scenario from people around Scotland, many of whom were not 18, and were therefore denied the opportunity to see the film.[8] The BBFC acknowledged that there is some variation across Britain in how offensive some words are perceived, but stood by the 18 certificate and argued that most of the publicity around the film was "mostly generated by the disgruntled film-maker".[9]

Screenings in Inverclyde, Martin Compston's birthplace, where the film was shot, were shown under a 15 certificate.[9]


  1. ^ a b "Sweet Sixteen (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  2. ^ "'English' subtitles on film set in Scotland". The Herald. Glasgow. 21 February 2005. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  3. ^ "Loach film may be subtitled for English audience". The Independent. London. 23 July 2002. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  4. ^ Brown, Simon (2011). "Anywhere but Scotland? Transnationalism and New Scottish Cinema". International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen. 4 (1).
  5. ^ Crowe, Peter (May 2005). "Losing Liam: On Ken Loach's Realist Masterpiece, Sweet Sixteen". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  6. ^ "Sweet welcome for Loach premiere". The Herald. Glasgow. 2 October 2002. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  7. ^ "The Innkeepers". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  8. ^ a b Laverty, Paul (29 September 2002). "A word with the censors". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Sweet Sixteen". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 6 November 2020.

External links[edit]