Silent Scream is a 1990 film directed by Glaswegian actor and director David Hayman, who makes a brief cameo appearance in the movie. It is based on the true story of Larry Winters – a Glasgow man jailed for life at Barlinnie prison after shooting dead a barman in a London pub. While examples of violence perpetrated by Winters are limited in the film itself (with the shooting being the obvious exception to this), he is regarded as one of the Glasgow prison’s most violent inmates and is hated by the prison staff. That is in the main prison however – a significant part of the film concerns his transfer to the Barlinnie secure unit, where there is a very different environment and the staff seem practically like friends to Winters and other prisoners. Perhaps the most striking example of the different atmosphere is when some of the prison officers accompany Larry on a day release to visit his family – he leaves the house with his father and a conversation between the affable secure unit staff goes: “Larry’s away for a walk”, “Hope he comes back”, “Don’t worry, he will” – with that last line delivered in a cheerful manner as opposed to a threatening one implying that he’ll have the hounds released on him to ensure he does. At this stage in his incarceration though Winters’ stability declines in a different way through his dependency on drugs.
There are a number of observations to be made about Silent Scream, with the first couple concerning its production – it is not just a straightforward crime tale, with hallucinations and animations contributing alongside more pedestrian flashbacks to Larry Winters’ childhood and young adulthood. A particularly interesting mechanic in the film is the use of the prison’s security monitors – which we are occasionally shown flickering with static before they open up a window into the latest flashback. Speaking of flashbacks, the film is set primarily during the 1970s – during the later spell of Winters’ imprisonment – but we do get a glimpse into his life in the preceding decades, from a childhood relocation to Carbisdale to time spent in Wales as part of the Brecon Beacons Parachute Regiment, and the fateful spell in London. 23 years after its release the movie does seem somewhat dated compared to some of its contemporaries, and that is not simply because of the period setting – Silent Scream actually feels like it was made not in 1990 but in the 1970s at some points.
The role of Larry Winters is taken on by Edinburgh born Iain Glen, who is excellent as the emaciated, mentally tormented killer. The cast also includes John Murtagh, Robert Carlyle, Julie Graham, Douglas Henshall, Caroline Paterson and Tom Watson – who plays the murdered barman Patrick and puts in a few eerie appearances in Larry’s fantasies. And a special mention must go to the late Anne Kristen, who delivers a strong performance as the Winters matriarch whose love and pride for her son remain steadfast.
As for Glasgow’s part in Silent Scream – Barlinnie prison naturally features, as do the Royal Infirmary and the Necropolis among other locations. Some interior scenes were shot at Blackcat Studios in Glasgow and, as contributor Neil Johnson-Symington highlights in his “Cinema City” essay in Nicola Balkind’s World Film Locations Glasgow book, the London “Vogue” cinema that appears in the film is in fact the former Riddrie cinema in Glasgow. While dealing with a dark subject matter and set at a time when Glasgow was in decline, Silent Scream manages not to portray the city as one of complete hopelessness – Barlinnie’s secure unit, while flawed in places, shows an early attempt at innovation and open-mindedness by authorities while the wider Winters family are portrayed as good and hard working people.