Declaring the arrival of former Skins stars Jack O’Connell with a ferocious, star-making performance, Starred Up is an outstanding and unflinching prison drama from director David Mackenzie, whose career sparks new life after a string of middling efforts. Prematurely transferred to the same prison as his estranged father (Ben Mendelsohn), teenage offender Eric (O’Connell) soon attracts the unwelcome attention of the prison wardens when he fails to curb his foul behaviour. But prison support worker Olivier (Rupert Friend) thinks he can help, as long as he can crack Eric’s inherent violent ways before it’s too late. The film announces its forcefulness with a brilliant, muted sequences that follows Eric as he’s stripped – both literally and metaphorically – of his freedom, and barely lets up thereafter. The script, written by former support worker Jonathan Asser, is rooted in realism, and a combination of Michael McDonough’s cinematography, Mackenzie’s tight-knit direction (the stark, endlessness of prison life is emphasised brilliantly through repetition of revolving doors and claustrophobic close-ups) and fantastic performances from O’Connell, Mendelson and Friend ensure a robust level of tension and magnetism is maintained throughout, even when more melodramatic moments – Eric and Neville increasingly maudlin bond, for instance – start to ooze in and the film ends on a slack note.