Movie Glaswegians: John Barrowman

john barrowmanFirst impression of John Barrowman to many people would be that he is not Glaswegian… that would be the American accent. Barrowman was indeed born in Glasgow – on 11th March 1967 – and lived in the Mount Vernon area of the city until he was eight years old, when his father’s work saw the family relocated to Illinois. He reportedly learned to talk with an American accent after being picked on at school for his Scottish accent and now, as well as holding dual citizenship of the USA and UK, he is known to be able to switch to his native Scottish accent comfortably despite mainly speaking with his American one in public.

The second point to strike readers might be “hold on, this blog is about movies…”. Again here is a side to Barrowman that is certainly not hidden, but perhaps drowned out by other elements of an extremely widespread showbusiness career. He has theatre experience spanning three decades, ranging from stints in London’s West End and on Broadway to pantomime – in fact at this time he is appearing in Jack And The Beanstalk at Glasgow’s Clyde Auditorium. On television he has many credits as a presenter, from 1990s Saturday morning show Live & Kicking to the more recent Tonight’s The Night, and indeed has acted on the small screen on both sides of the Atlantic. In the USA his television acting credits include Desperate Housewives while in the UK he has made guest appearances in series including Hotel Babylon and Hustle, however he is perhaps best known in this field for playing the central character in science fiction drama Torchwood, a spin-off of the BBC’s long running Doctor Who in which his character Captain Jack Harkness first appeared.

The highest profile movies that John Barrowman has appeared in to date are both musical-related – Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely and The Producers – although he did have an uncredited part as a “street person” in The Untouchables. Somwehat less successful productions in which he has appeared are Method, starring Liz Hurley, and the straight-to-video Shark Attack 3: Megalodon.

John Barrowman is in a civil partnership with his partner Scott Gill – the couple have houses in London and Cardiff, however Barrowman is a regular visitor to Glasgow due to stage and television commitments.

Stunt Double: Trainspotting

trainspottingtrainspotting 2trainspotting 3trainspotting 4Trainspotting could be regarded as one of the most significant British films of the modern era, and in Scottish terms is probably the most significant film full stop. Glasgow on Film has already studied the successful careers of Glaswegians Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald, while the item on Perfect Sense just scratched the surface of Perth-born Ewan McGregor’s cinematic journey and the Shallow Grave article alluded to director Danny Boyle’s rise to legendary status. All of these inspirational stories and more are linked to the movie Trainspotting.

Released in 1996, Trainspotting is based on the novel of the same name by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh. It follows the lives of a group of heroin addicts living in Edinburgh, with McGregor’s Renton being the central character. He is joined by friends Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Tommy (Kevin McKidd) and the previously mentioned Begbie – played tremendously by Robert Carlyle. Kelly Macdonald completes the top billed cast as Renton’s schoolgirl lover Diane, while James Cosmo, Shirley Henderson and Peter Mullan are among the strong support. The film has been described as a dark comedy – a fair enough appraisal as there are plenty of laughs, many of them accompanied by a cringe or a disbelieving shake of the head (a particular scene involving Spud and some bed sheets sticks in the mind). The main strand running through the story is Renton’s attempt to leave his drug abusing life behind which, ultimately, he succeeds in as the film concludes with him relocated to London in upbeat form.

The film had and continues to have a hugely recognisable identity, which is what makes it such an important part of British cinema. Among other items of merchandise released, posters adorned bedroom walls around the UK and a memorable soundtrack brought (in some cases renewed) attention to artists as varied as Iggy Pop, Underworld and Blondie. It gained critical acclaim around the world and won awards, also being nominated for Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards. From a Scottish point of view Trainspotting shook up the “shortbread tin” image of Scotland and launched a number of young acting talents into the limelight.

As with Shallow Grave, it was in fact Glasgow that lent itself to the majority of filming despite the feature being set in Edinburgh. Among the Glasgow locations used were Crosslands pub on Queen Margaret Drive, Cafe D’Jaconelli on Maryhill Road, Jordanhill School and the since demolished Volcano nightclub in Partick. Perhaps as a thank you to the city, the Odeon cinema on Renfield Street was chosen as the venue for Trainspotting‘s world premiere. Among the cast and other celebrities in attendance was Jonny Lee Miller’s girlfriend of the time, a then little known actress who would later return to Glasgow in 2011 very well known – Angelina Jolie.

Movie Glaswegians: Gregor Fisher

gregor fisherBorn in Glasgow on 22nd December 1953, Gregor Fisher is perhaps best known as one of the city’s most iconic fictional characters – Rab C. Nesbitt. The BBC sitcom, in which the string vest wearing Rab philosophises directly to the viewer in between the amusing Govan goings on, is among the few Scottish comedy shows to have been networked across the whole of the UK – making both character and actor household names.

Among his other television credits are the comedy sketch show Naked Video (birthplace of Rab and for which he was also a writer) and The Tales Of Para Handy. Among his other Naked Video characters was a follicly challenged gentleman, who would also appear in a well known television advert for Hamlet cigars and ultimately his own Mr. Bean-esque show called The Baldy Man.

As is the case with many of his Glasgow acting peers, Fisher can claim an eclectic list of movie roles having worked alongside the likes of Al Pacino (in The Merchant Of Venice), Michael Caine (Without A Clue) and John Hurt (Nineteen Eighty-Four). He was also in the Glasgow-shot The Girl In The Picture and Glasgow-set Lassie. Arguably his most prominent film role in recent years has been that of Joe – manager to Bill Nighy’s ageing rock star Billy Mack – in Richard Curtis’ 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually.

According to Wikipedia Gregor Fisher attended Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, although did not complete his studies there. He is married to actress Vicki Burton and the couple have three children.

Stunt Double: Shallow Grave

shallow graveshallow grave 2shallow grave 3Manchester born Danny Boyle became something of a national hero this year when he directed the stunning Isles Of Wonder opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games. His films include the superb 28 Days Later and the multi-Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire. It is therefore an important feather in Glasgow’s movie making cap that the director’s first two feature films – Shallow Grave and Trainspotting – were mostly made in the city.

Glasgow on Film will be taking a closer look at Trainspotting soon, but today is about Shallow Grave. Released in 1995, the film stars Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor as three young professional friends who start out looking for a new flatmate. They settle with the suspicious Hugo, played by Keith Allen, who is soon found dead having overdosed on drugs. To the friends’ shock they find he has brought a significant stash of money under their roof and after much debating decide to dispose of his corpse with designs of their own on the money. Naturally, complications arise and acquaintances of Hugo turn up… and end up dead too. The friends’ comfortable lives as a doctor, a chartered accountant and a journalist ultimately fall apart and none of them end up better off – David (Eccleston) dead, Alex (McGregor) banged to rights by the police and Juliet (Fox) fleeing the country with none of the money.

Typically for Boyle Shallow Grave is smart, stylish and at points fast paced – never shying away from nudity or bloodshed either.

The film is set in Edinburgh, however a significant chunk of it was filmed in Glasgow with support from the Glasgow Film Fund. Glasgow locations include the Townhouse Hotel on West George Street (nowadays Europe’s largest Thai restaurant Chaophraya), which plays host to both a ceilidh scene and David’s office, and Glasgow International Airport – admittedly in Renfrewshire but bearing the city’s name nonetheless.

Studio Time: The Eagle

the eagleThis 2011 “swords and sandals” (a great term used by one of the contributors in the making of segment on the DVD) film is another production to have employed the wonderful Film City Glasgow as a production base. Being set in Roman Britain, even the most creative minds would struggle to dress 21st century Glasgow as that time and place but Film City was a hive of activity during the rural Scottish leg of the shoot (parts of the film were also shot in Hungary) and indeed some of The Eagle‘s stars were spotted around the city.

Speaking of stars the film boasts an impressive cast, headed up by the increasingly ubiquitous Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, and also including Donald Sutherland and Mark Strong. Based on a novel by the late author Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle is directed by Glasgow-born Kevin Macdonald, whose significant contribution to cinema will be a future subject on this blog.

The story takes place in 140 AD, where Tatum’s centurion Marcus Aquila sets out to solve the mystery of the disappearance 20 years earlier of his father’s legion in the mountains of Caledonia. Bell takes on the role of a British slave who accompanies him on his mission. The Eagle did not quite achieve the “bigger than Braveheart” status that some commentators were predicting for it prior to its release, however it should still be regarded as a significant production for Scotland. The scenery is striking and, unlike many historic epics of recent years, its use of CGI effects is limited – something that Macdonald indicates was important to him while commenting in the DVD extras, and that gained praise from respected American film critic Roger Ebert. Glasgow on Film has to admit to not being a huge fan of historic films – certainly not those set this far back – but in fact found the pace of this movie agreeable. Furthermore it offers some welcome contrasts throughout – there are beautifully sunny sets and dark, depressing, rainy ones; there are violent scenes, but upbeat ones too.

Starring Role: Postmortem

postmortempostmortem 2This 1998 movie evokes bittersweet feelings in Glasgow on Film. Back in summer 1997 when it was being filmed, it was the first Glasgow-shot movie that GoF really sat up and took interest in – a curiosity that has grown into the passion for the subject that exists today. Any sentimentality though is tempered by the fact that Postmortem is, well, pretty terrible.

In summer 1997 the internet was limited in terms of both availability and content so there did not appear to be the rumours or rumblings of anything coming Glasgow’s way, and by the time GoF had been alerted to the production nothing had been noticed in the newspapers either. A relative had been in the city centre and noticed a lot of crowds and commotion on Gordon Street – when she asked one of the event security people what was going on he replied that Charlie Sheen was making a film. To the naive 15 year old that was GoF this was a big thing – in the couple of years preceding there had been a lot of hype with the shooting of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting in Glasgow, and reports of Mel Gibson immersing himself in the city to prepare for Braveheart, but this appeared to represent the first time that a Hollywood name had come to Glasgow to make a film set in Glasgow (GoF had not been aware of Death Watch, with Harvey Keitel, at that point). The naivety also meant that GoF gave no consideration to the film being a low budget, straight to video release – it always seemed as if movies just came out with the same fanfare as the last one, so surely this would get its glittering premiere and be screened in multiplexes across the globe, showcasing Glasgow as it did so? No, it was straight to video and it could be suggested that Sheen’s billing as “Charles Sheen” was an attempt by his management to deflect attention from his part in the production.

So what is Postmortem about? Sheen plays James McGregor, an American cop turned author who has relocated to Scotland for peace after wrapping up a child serial killer case in the USA. When a young woman’s naked corpse turns up in his garden he is immediately arrested as the suspect, however once his name is cleared the Glasgow police turn to McGregor for help as it now appears that they have a serial killer on their hands as more women are found in a similar condition around the city. The body count grows, but as McGregor and the native detectives figure out the pattern – the killer, the son of a funeral director, has been meeting the women at funerals of their relatives and teases McGregor by faxing the obituaries of the deceased relatives to him ahead of the bodies turning up – the team manage to save a couple of lives before a confrontation at the Necropolis where the murderer kills himself.

You can tell that there is something wrong with this film before you even take the DVD out of the case – the description on the back states that McGregor “flees to a small, peaceful Scottish town…” – a ridiculous description of Glasgow that neither its champions or its critics would use, and not even justified by its portrayal within the film with one character using the phrase “…our great city of Glasgow”. Criticising the descriptor may be nit picking, but there are so many negatives about the film itself. In terms of acting, English actor Michael Halsey and Sarajevo-born Ivana Milicevic play the lead detective roles – Halsey’s accent is pretty poor but salvaged somewhat by a semi-convincing gruffness, however Milicevic’s effort is dire – one could say it sounds Irish but that would almost be a compliment. Halsey fluffs his lines at one point and the director sees fit to leave this in. Then there is the awkward moment of a victim’s father, a well spoken Scottish man telling McGregor “…you would do anything, any goddamned thing…”. There are plot holes galore: McGregor seems to live practically in the Highlands yet it’s a city centre squad that are dispatched to his house to deal with the first murder; an officer “extra” seen aiding McGregor in one scene is restraining him from apprehending a suspect less than a minute later; and a red herring scene in which one of the killer’s targets is met by an actual friend of hers is astoundingly bad.

Last points in the postmortmem of Postmortem are about the general production values. There’s a bit where Halsey’s Detective Inspector Balantine is stabbed and killed – as he drops, rather than the usual theatrical blood, what can only be described as a kind of broth spills from his mouth. And the whole movie looks like it has been filmed on someone’s mobile phone.

Scottish actors Stephen McCole and Gary Lewis make up the rest of the top billed cast.

Studio Time: Outpost

outpostoutpost 2So far Glasgow on Film has covered movies filmed and set in Glasgow, movies filmed on the streets of Glasgow but set elsewhere and even those filmed elsewhere but set in Glasgow. This new GoF category – Studio Time – has been created for films shot within the four walls of the Film City Glasgow studio in Govan, so therefore not using Glasgow’s streets, parks or any other distinguishing features as a backdrop but definitely Clyde built productions nonetheless.

Before going into the plot of Outpost, a little bit on Film City Glasgow…

Film City Glasgow is quintessentially Glaswegian, housed in the red sandstone former Govan Town Hall and just a stone’s throw from the River Clyde. Central to the complex is a 5,000 square foot studio and build space and there are production offices, workshop areas and rehearsal and meeting rooms. On its website Film City Glasgow is described as “the heart and soul of Scotland’s film and television industry”, a title justified by the impressive list of both television and film production companies who reside there, have used it as a base or both. In film, The Eagle, Perfect Sense, Red Road, Legacy, The Decoy Bride and Neds are among the productions in which Film City Glasgow has played a part. Film City Glasgow is currently leading proposals for a new, bigger studio scheme on the Clyde waterfront just next to the existing premises – this would include two studio sound stages, with one at around 20,000 square feet in size. If approved the new complex would have the potential to lead to even more movie making in Glasgow, a prospect which of course Glasgow on Film relishes.

Back to today’s subject matter Outpost, which had internal scenes shot in Film City Glasgow, with external scenes filmed on location in Dumfries and Galloway. Starring Ray Stevenson, Julian Wadham, Richard Brake, Paul Blair, Brett Fancy, Enoch Frost, Julian Rivett, Michael Smiley and Johnny Meres, Outpost sees a team of mercenaries and the scientist who hired them head to an underground bunker in a remote part of eastern Europe. The scientist, Hunt (played by Julian Wadham), has knowledge that the bunker was used by the Nazis during the second world war to experiment and develop an army of super soldiers, and is particularly interested in an anti-matter device housed within. The team discover what appears to be a survivor, and from then on in the film develops into its horror territory as the mercenaries are killed off one by one amid mysterious goings on. The film is classed as low budget – it was in fact the first release from Black Camel Pictures, founded by couple Arabella Croft and Kieran Parker who mortgaged their Glasgow home to finance Outpost – yet the quality surpasses that of many other movies made on budgets of similar or even higher amounts. Another contrast that does the film and the people behind it credit is that between its background and its plot – the story of a Glasgow couple mortgaging their house to fund a business sounds like it should be leading up to the opening of a new coffee shop in the west end, not a genuinely creepy and gruesome movie about undead Nazis.