Directed by Ken Loach, starring Martin Compston, Michelle Coulter, Annmarie Fulton, William Ruane, Michelle Abercromby and Gary McCormack.

Set in the run down Scottish town of Greenock, Ken Loach's 'Sweet Sixteen' follows young scally Liam (Compston) in the tumultuous run up to his sixteenth birthday.

His ex-heroin addict mother Jean (Coulter) is in prison, after taking the rap for her brutal boyfriend Stan (McCormack). When Liam refuses to pass drugs on to Jean, Stan and the boy's grandfather Rab (McKee) beat him up and kick him out of home. Liam, together with his best friend Pinball (Ruane), comes up with a plan to make enough money to buy a mobile home for his mother who is due to be released from prison on his sixteenth birthday. But his new business involves muscling in on the drugs trade in the area. It's not long before he comes to the attention of the local mobsters and gets sucked into their world - on their terms. Despite all his hopes and plans, Liam is on a path that leads inexorably to tragedy.

Although it's a harrowing tale, 'Sweet Sixteen' is gripping viewing. Ken Loach is frequently seen as a difficult director who sometimes focuses on social and political issues to the detriment of his characters. Here, the optimism and humour of the young cast shine through and lighten a story that can only have one ending. In his acting debut, Martin Compston plays Liam with a heartbreaking mixture of savagery and innocence - old beyond his years but still a kid who, despite all the evidence, believes in his mother. He could be a younger, more optimistic version of Joe, the reformed alcoholic in Loach's 1998 film 'My Name is Joe'.

The barren housing estates and desolate beauty of Greenock are brilliantly captured by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, as Loach and scriptwriter Paul Laverty explore the few options open to a young boy when drugs are more readily available than jobs. Realistic performances from all the cast - several of whom, like Compston, are novice actors - add further depth and richness to the story. Despite the lively humour, 'Sweet Sixteen' is nearly unbearably bleak but is undeniably a superb example of intelligent and socially conscious filmmaking.

Caroline Hennessy