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Sweet Sixteen

Production Crew

Director:Ken Loach

Producer: Rebecca O'Brien

Screenplay by: Paul Laverty

Music by: George Fenton

Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd

Editor: Jonathan Morris

Production Design: Martin Johnson


Liam: Martin Compston

Chantelle: Anne-Marie Fulton

Pinball: William Ruane

Stan: Gary McCormack

Jean: Michelle Coulter

Press Kit

Best Screenplay, Cannes Film Festival 2002


"The genesis of Sweet Sixteen may have been back with the making of 'My Name is Joe," says writer Paul Laverty. "When you're imagining a story there are often dozens of characters screaming for attention, all saying 'me, me, me, me'. We can't feed them all otherwise the story will collapse. But there was one persistent character who would not give up or shut up. He demanded our attention." That voice became the character of Liam.

"Paul and I made Bread and Roses in L.A. and thought it would be good to do another film on home ground," explains Ken Loach. "We went on a trip at Paul's instigation to Greenock which is a town just along the Clyde from Glasgow. The scenery is spectacular, which is more than can be said for the job opportunities since the shipyards closed."

Laverty began his task by spending lots of time with young people. "For some time I'd been talking with Ken about doing another very personal story; about how one young person tries to make sense of his life. It's as simple and as complex as that. Friends, family and community connect or smash up against each other in endlessly complex patterns. Liam is at a delicate point in his life. Some things just don't fit, though he is absolutely determined to use his considerable talent and cheek to make them do so."

"What struck me," says Laverty, "from talking to lots of carers who work with children (either in children's homes with foster carers or even secure accommodation) was that, no matter how chaotic the family home, most were still determined to make contact with their mother. There's something extra concentrated about adolescence. There's a special energy which can be exhilarating or explosive. Fragility, and often a wild courage, even if misplaced, can sit easily side by side. We were keen to try and capture some of those qualities in our story."

"During auditions we worked with hundreds of young people in sports clubs, schools and community groups," explains researcher Pam Marshall. "A lot of the teenagers had never acted before and were quite nervous. I was amazed at how they surprised themselves. Everyone was able to jump in and have a go. I don't think they expected to get caught up in the improvisation. That was very exciting."

The sense of place is probably stronger in Greenock and Port Glasgow than many towns. The river itself has such presence. Its shipbuilding history, which once provided work for tens of thousands of men, is implicit; monster sized cranes still dwarf the new call centres built along the banks. The wind from the West, the open expanse of water and sharp rising hills of the town also dictate a tough wind-swept climate. In his highest and lowest moments, Liam is drawn to the river. It's where he can dream and let his imagination run wild; and where he has to reflect on the choices he's made which will change his life for ever.

Although Liam's story is told in a town with a very particular personality it will have echoes for many beyond these shores.


Local people were involved in the filming, taking on leading roles and small parts. People were recruited from local schools, community centres and employment training schemes. Liza Dow, co-ordinator at Second Chance Learning Project, emphasises the problems faced on a daily basis as being housing, unemployment and drugs related. "Confidence and self-esteem are a major issue. We have to tackle that before we can go on to training," says Dow. "People feel they have got less opportunities than people living in better areas." This is reflected in how people approach the project. "Some people come in really nippy and cheeky, but it's a protection and when you get to know them they are really quite vulnerable. I think it's quite sad that the expectations will not be that high for a lot of people. I don't think they would reach for the stars."

These feelings are echoed by Alison Minton who works for Renfrewshire Business Training Scheme. "The situation I would say is fairly bleak. There are very few apprenticeships within Inverclyde." Since 1981 over 6,000 jobs have been lost in the engineering and shipbuilding sector. [i] Besides the public sector, the main employers are the electronics industries and call centres and these are characterised by short-term contracts and seasonal changes. Between 1991 and 1996 Inverclyde experienced the highest population loss of any Scottish local authority, ten times the average rate for Scotland. This is still a major source of concern for the local Economic Development Service.

"I don't feel our client group are very positive about their futures," says Minton. "Not everybody wants to work in a call centre. We are now hitting a second generation of unemployment where there has not been a work ethic in the home." Despite the difficulties Minton would not give up her work. "Their energy and humour is infectious - it keeps me young!"

It is against this backdrop that Liam attempts to hold his family together. As Martin Compston sums up: "Liam wants the right things, he's not a bad person. The story shows how much courage some people have."

The challenges faced by 15 year old Liam in the story are not uncommon in Scotland and the UK in general. A recent report prepared for the Scottish Executive For Scotland's Children highlights the severity of problem:

Almost 40,000 children are excluded from school each year in Scotland.

Just over 11,000 children are in care and up to 75% of them leave school with no qualifications. Less than 1% go to university.

Scotland's rate of teenage conception is the highest in Europe.

Around 100,000 children in Scotland live with domestic violence.

The Scottish Poverty Information Unit's 1999 Report states one third of British children now live in households experiencing poverty. It quotes a 1993 study [ii] which found that, "Although the UK is not the poorest country in the European Union and does not have the highest proportion of individuals in poverty, it has by far the highest rate of child poverty in the European Union." The number of children living below the poverty line in April 2000 was put at over 4 million by the Department of Social Security. [iii]

The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs First Report states: "Scotland has some of the most deprived communities in Europe. As the Scottish Voluntary Organisations noted, one important dimension of poverty in Scotland was not so much the quantity, but the intensity of poverty. Average life expectancy is lower in Scotland; this distorts the poverty picture." [iv]

The report also points out that: "The impact of poverty is emphasised where whole communities are affected. There are a number of area concentrations in the former industrialised communities of west central Scotland Inverclyde to Lanarkshire resulting in general deprivation and health inequalities."


Policy Research & Information Group, Strathclyde Regional Council, based on 1991 Census and economic date from Economic Strategy Section. Analysis by Marion Lacey.

1993 "The Prevalence of child poverty in the United Kingdom: a comparative perspective", Jonathan Bradshaw, Social Policy Research Unit, University of York, paper to the Children & Social Exclusion conference, University of Hull, March 1998.

Households Below Average Income Series DWP 2001, Dept of Social Security

House of Commons Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, First Report 1999

Short Synopsis

Liam's Mum, Jean, is in prison but is due to be released in time for his 16th birthday. This time Liam is determined that things will be different. He dreams of a family life he's never had, which means creating a safe haven beyond the reach of wasters like Jean's boyfriend Stan and his own mean-spirited grandfather.

But first he's got to raise the cash - no mean feat for a skint teenager. It's not long before Liam and his pals' crazy schemes lead them into all sorts of trouble. Finding himself dangerously out of his depth, Liam knows he should walk away. Only this time, he just can't let go.

Clip Rights Notes

For UK screening/press enquiries: ICON Entertainment

For international screening/press/sales enquiries: The Works International

For clip licensing: Sixteen Films