Roth, who was 21 years old at the time, plays Trevor, a working class British teenager who is also a racist skinhead, one who has a swastika on his forehead. Trevor is sometimes clever, occasionally quick-witted, always angry, and often remarkably ignorant. He’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t have much of a future but he’s still too immature to accept that he’s largely to blame. Instead, Trevor blames the immigrants who he claims have invaded Britain and taken away all of the opportunities that should otherwise go to him.
After Trevor gets arrested for both shoplifting and for throwing a rock at a Pakistani, Trevor is taken to an assessment centre, where he’ll be expected to regularly check-in until his punishment is handed down. Despite facing the prospect of being sent to a borstal (which, for our American readers, is essentially a reformer school), Trevor continues to defiantly commit crimes. He steals a car. He vandalizes a job centre. He huffs inhalants and even pays another taunting visit to the Pakastani man. Accompanying Trevor on some of his journeys is Errol (Terry Richards), his roommate at the assessment centre. (It may seem strange, especially to viewers in the States, that the white supremacist Trevor would befriend the black Errol but, like many British skinheads in the 80s, Trevor focuses the majority of his hate on immigrants.)
It’s easy to dislike Trevor and Trevor often seems to go out of his way to alienate everyone who he meets. Trevor is angry about the lot that he’s been given in life. His parents are nowhere to be seen. He has no prospects. He has no future. He spends all day surrounded by poverty and he resents the immigrants who have somehow found success in Britain while he’s struggling to get by. Trevor has nothing to look forward to in the future and he’s pissed off about it, which has left him vulnerable to the poisonous philosophy of racism. Trevor is always angry and he’s always looking for way to act on that anger. He’s also intelligent enough to secretly realize, even if he won’t fully admit to himself, that he’s full of shit but he’s trapped himself in his role. One gets the feeling that Trevor had the potential to make something out of himself but his rage and his impulsive manner have, at only the age of 16, left him with no futre. Even if he eventually rejects racism, the swastika on his forehead is going to leave him branded for life. It’s only towards the end of the film, after a police officer explains — in painstaking details — just hopeless Trevor’s situation is, that Trevor allows his mask to slip a little. But Trevor only allows himself to appear defeated for a few minutes before his defiant smirk returns.
Tim Roth was only 21 years old when he made his acting debut in the role of Trevor and he gives a brilliant performance. If you didn’t know who Tim Roth was, you would be excused for thinking that director Alan Clarke had gone out and cast an actual skinhead in the role. Roth tears into the role with a frightening intensity. Also of note is the gritty cinematography of Chris Menges, who uses a Steadicam to follow Trevor as he walks through his daily routine and to capture why someone like Trevor feels as if there’s no future to being made in Britain.