Starring Role: Heavenly Pursuits

This 1986 film, also known as The Gospel According to Vic in some parts, is a real gem in Glasgow’s film history. Starring Tom Conti and Helen Mirren as teachers Vic and Ruth, Heavenly Pursuits follows a very original storyline – at a time when school and church authorities are keen to see a sainthood bestowed on the namesake of the Blessed Edith Semple School, a series of potentially miraculous occurrences captures the attention of the whole of Glasgow and gets cynical Vic thinking twice.

The film opens in Rome – where Brian Pettifer’s Father Cobb is visiting the Vatican (in fact the interior is Glasgow City Chambers) to petition a senior figure in the Catholic church on the Edith Semple matter – before switching from the grandeur of St. Peter’s Square to the Glasgow skyline under a rather murky sky. But this is not setting us up for a “grim Glasgow” tale – some years before its City of Culture renaissance the city looks fantastic throughout and it is a cheerful and upbeat movie.

The cast is first class. Conti and Mirren are on fine form as always and the former in particular is really well paired with David Hayman as his friend and union rep Jeff. As mentioned above Brian Pettifer is the school’s chaplain, and he is joined by Dave Anderson as the headmaster. Other well known Scottish faces to appear include Juliet Cadzow and Ron Donachie. The school pupils are great too – there’s a particularly joyous scene when young Stevie, whose abilities are a cause for concern to some, beats Vic in an impromptu contest to list motorcycle brands. It’s a moment of glory for Stevie as the kids all cheer him on excitedly and it’s a defeat that Vic is more than happy to accept. Stevie – incidentally – is played by a young Ewen Bremner, and Tony Curran is also listed as one of the pupils in the credits. And one final note on the names to pop up in Heavenly Pursuits – Gordon Jackson appears as himself discussing the newspapers (in particular the Blessed Edith Semple School story) on breakfast television with broadcaster Sheena McDonald.

Glasgow is another star of the film and locations featured include Glasgow Cathedral, the Victoria Infirmary, Great Western Road, Sauchiehall Street, the Western Infirmary, Renfield Street, the Kingston Bridge and Queen Street Station. The exterior used for the school at the centre of all the action is that of Queen’s Park Secondary School on Grange Road – the school has since been demolished and a modern satellite building to the Victoria Infirmary now stands on the site.

The sight of Queen’s Park Secondary was a blast from the past and that is another enjoyable feature of Heavenly Pursuits – the nostalgia. If you remember Glasgow in the 1980s look out for glimpses of Wimpy on Sauchiehall Street and Pizzaland just across the road from it, the Odeon on Renfield Street, the Irn Bru clock on Union Street, John Menzies in Queen Street Station and orange buses galore.

Completing the package is an excellent soundtrack from BA Robertson. With Heavenly Pursuits writer and director Charles Gormley has presented a charming Glasgow feature that can sit comfortably alongside bigger budget Hollywood productions of its time.


Glasgow’s Global Visitors: Cher

Name: Cher

Born: 20th May 1946 in El Centro, California, USA

Credits include: BurlesqueMaskMoonstruck

Reason for visiting Glasgow:

The singer – born Cheryl Sarkisian – is another entertainer whose career has involved both singing and acting, and while her film appearances have dwindled a little in more recent years she has a fairly long list of acting roles under her belt.

She has visited Glasgow as a musician at least three times over the years – performing at the legendary Apollo venue on Renfield Street in 1977, and at the SECC in 1992 and 2004.

Starring Role: The Flying Scotsman

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know too much about the story of Graeme Obree, one of Scottish sport’s more interesting characters, before watching The Flying Scotsman. I haven’t read his book of the same name on which it is based, so I am going to refrain from commenting too much on the storyline here and will focus more on the relevance of the movie to Glasgow – which is after all the primary purpose of this blog.

To summarise briefly before moving onto Glasgow matters, following a brief childhood back story we are taken forward to 1993 where Obree (played by Jonny Lee Miller) is working as a cycle courier. At the same time his Prestwick bicycle shop is closing down. However a spark of inspiration sees him set a personal goal of breaking the world hour record for cycling – a goal he builds up to in the short space of eight weeks, during which he constructs his own bike made of all manner of parts, including – famously – washing machine components. He successfully breaks the record – set by Francesco Moser in 1984 – although his own record is broken less than a week later by Englishman Chris Boardman.

The film has surprisingly little focus on the much hyped rivalry between Obree and Boardman, with the main villain of the piece appearing to be Steven Berkoff’s German World Cycling Federation official, who seems hell bent on preventing the Scotsman from glory. We also see Obree bullied in childhood, with the same bullying individuals rounding on him in adulthood – it is unusual in an “underdog story” biopic to see the hero treated with such malice even after the life-changing moment(s) in their story.

There is plenty of focus on Obree’s positive relationships – with wife Anne (Laura Fraser), friend and manager Malky (Billy Boyd) and Douglas Baxter (Brian Cox) – a local minister who encourages Obree on his goal and lends him his workshop to build his bicycle. The film also acknowledges Obree’s bipolar disorder.

At the start of the film we are brought from Graeme Obree’s school days up to date with the caption “GLASGOW 1993” as we see the cyclist riding along Argyle Street at the “Heilanman’s Umbrella”. With both Graeme and Malky working as cycle couriers there are numerous scenes and views recorded in the city centre throughout, with other locations including Bothwell Street, West George Street and Scott Street.

Glasgow landmarks also double for a couple of overseas locations. A cleverly shot – although still identifiable – view of the Clyde Auditorium is used to represent the Hamar Stadium in Norway. I thought it odd that such a well known Scottish landmark should have been used when there are plenty of more generic structures around Glasgow and Scotland, but then I saw a picture of the real stadium and understood the choice – it has a distinctive armour plated appearance not unlike that which earned the Glasgow venue its “Armadillo” nick name. Meanwhile the exterior of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is used to represent the World Cycling Federation headquarters.

Glasgow’s Global Visitors: Meryl Streep

Name: Meryl Streep

Born: 22nd June 1949 in Summit, New Jersey, USA

Credits include: The Devil Wears PradaThe Hours, Doubt

Reason for visiting Glasgow:

It has been widely reported in the Scottish press that Meryl Streep visited Glasgow circa 2000-2001, when her son Henry Gummer was attending the University of Glasgow as part of an exchange programme with Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

The most detailed account of her visit to be found online is in a 2006 interview with the actress by Siobhan Synnot for the Daily Record. Here it is revealed that Streep stayed at One Devonshire Gardens on her visit and enjoyed walking around Glasgow’s West End. She also recommended the art galleries and commented on the friendly locals.

In 2010 when the co-founder of Ashton Lane’s famous Ubiquitous Chip  – Ronnie Clydesdale – passed away, newspaper obituaries also listed Meryl Streep among the restaurant’s famous visitors.

Stunt Double: The Decoy Bride

This 2011 film has two settings, but a number of different filming locations. The opening scene is meant to be in Paris, but the majority of the film is set in the fictional Outer Hebrides island of Hegg.

Locations used included Dumfries, Argyll and the Isle of Man – the latter due to funding from Isle of Man Film. Filming also took place in and around Glasgow, with Film City Glasgow used for part of the production. In terms of external filming I personally could only identify one Glasgow location clearly – this was the cloisters of the University of Glasgow in a scene near the beginning, when Alice Eve’s character chases a paparazzo from her Parisian wedding.

Eve features as Hollywood A-lister Lara Tyler, whose marriage to David Tennant’s author James Arber the world’s media are desperate to cover. After a series of failed attempts at a private ceremony, Lara chooses remote Hegg – the setting of James’ best-selling book – as the perfect location for a wedding that no-one will find. Needless to say all does not go to plan and after a tip off the couple and Lara’s P.As (Michael Urie and Sally Phillips) are having to contend with hordes of journalists and eccentric locals. Local girl Katie – played by Kelly Macdonald – is drafted in as a “decoy bride” to throw the media off the scent of the actual nuptials, but after a series of mishaps and some bonding time between James and Katie the lead characters start to re-evaluate their lives.

The Decoy Bride is not a film I would have set out to watch were it not for the Glasgow connections, and it didn’t exactly win me over by the end. Some of it seems to drag on a bit and I felt that the storyline would have been better suited to a Sunday night three-parter on BBC One. That said, it was not without its rays of light – Sally Phillips co-wrote the film as well as appearing in it, and her strong comedy credentials do shine through with some genuinely funny lines and a couple of other amusing moments. For me the moment I started to relax and enjoy the film just a little bit was when a couple of the local old ladies reveal the souvenirs they have made – pebbles with faces crudely drawn on them, retailing at £1 or £1.50 “with hair”; Kelly Macdonald also raises a smile with her attempt to deliver wedding vows in a false American accent.

The UK premiere for The Decoy Bride took place at the 2012 Glasgow Film Festival.

Glasgow’s Global Visitors: Hugo Weaving

Name: Hugo Weaving

Born: 4th April 1960 in Austin, Nigeria

Credits include: The MatrixV for VendettaCaptain America: The First Avenger

Reason for visiting Glasgow:

The Nigeria-born Australian actor played numerous roles in 2012’s Cloud Atlas – including that of hired assassin Bill Smoke in the 1970s San Francisco segments of the movie. This required Weaving, along with Halle Berry and Keith David, to be present for filming of a dramatic car crash and shoot-out scene on Douglas Street in 2011.

Stunt Double: Filth

A few days ago I posted here about the picture postcard moments of Sunshine on LeithFilth – also released in 2013 – turns that image of Edinburgh on its head, all thanks to the mind of Irvine Welsh – from whose book the movie was adapted.

But once again “Edinburgh” isn’t all that it seems, as Glasgow stood in for the capital in filming of a number of scenes. We will come to the Glasgow locations in a moment, but what of the film itself?

The story follows James McAvoy’s Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson in the run up to Christmas – he’s vying for a promotion, has to handle the case of a murdered Japanese student… and appears to have lost the plot. For anyone, like me, who hadn’t read the book the trailers suggested an extra sweary tale of a bent cop but this is far more than that. There are persistent moments of madness – most of them coming from DS Robertson – throughout. Not so much of the rock and roll, but plenty of sex and drugs.

I think the main talking point of Filth however has to be the cast. Had the Better Together politicians been able to get this lot on board for its campaign, then the outcome of September’s independence referendum may well have been a foregone conclusion – for it is a “Best of British” ensemble that works incredibly well together. McAvoy is joined by many of Scotland’s finest, including Martin Compston, Iain De Caestecker, Kate Dickie, Emun Elliott, Shirley Henderson, Gary Lewis, John Sessions, Jonathan Watson and Jordan Young. Yet on top of that list there is still room for some of the most respected English names in acting today – Jamie Bell (now no stranger to shooting in Glasgow), Jim Broadbent, Joanne Froggatt, Eddie Marsan and Imogen Poots. Oh… and there’s an American for good measure too – David Soul in one brief and bizarre sequence.

Many of the above play distinctly against type – McAvoy in particular excels as the twisted mess that is Robertson. Gary Lewis is oafish and Iain De Caestecker is a million miles from his studious characters in Young James Herriot and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And I may be alone in this, but usually I find Jim Broadbent’s performances a bit “samey” – it’s amazing what putting on an Australian accent can do though.

So what about Glasgow’s role in Filth?

Among the locations we see are Park Circus, where Robertson’s house is located, and James Watt Street – where he is taken into the building that houses GTW Storage. The flat in which De Caestecker’s character Ocky stays is portrayed on the outside by a large Cardonald block of flats, but on the inside by the atrium of Sauchiehall Street’s Beresford building.

Movie Glaswegians: Laura Fraser

Now living in New York with her husband and daughter, Glasgow-born Laura Fraser continues to enjoy a successful acting career on both sides of the Atlantic, and on small and big screen.

Born in Glasgow on 24th July 1976, Fraser attended Hillhead High School and later the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in the city. Her first recorded screen acting role was in the 1995 short Good Day for the Bad Guys, opposite Gary Lewis and Peter Mullan. In 1996 she made her first feature film appearance in Small Faces and in the same year she appeared as a regular in London-set television mini series Neverwhere and as a one-off character in the long-running BBC drama Casualty.

On television these roles have been followed by key parts in numerous series, including two set in Glasgow – Single Father and Lip Service. But arguably her most prominent television role to date has been that of Lydia Rodarte-Quayle – a central player in the fifth and sixth seasons of the immensely popular American drama Breaking Bad.

Laura Fraser’s movie credits are as varied in style as her television credits – since Small Faces other films to feature her have included The Man in the Iron MaskKevin & Perry Go LargeA Knight’s Tale and Vanilla Sky. She has also acted in Scottish features The MatchThe Flying Scotsman and Nina’s Heavenly Delights.

Her proven ability to convincingly play both British and American characters, plus the current Breaking Bad factor – which has propelled lead actors Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul into high demand – could spell exciting times ahead for this Glaswegian actress.

Stunt Double: Sunshine on Leith

You don’t have to like musicals to enjoy Sunshine on Leith… and I’m not even going to add “…but it helps” to that, because it genuinely is good fun whatever your usual tastes are. It is not show tunes and jazz hands; it is not an oddly chosen historical or biblical subject (for example Evita or Jesus Christ Superstar) translated into song – adapted from Stephen Greenhorn’s stage musical of the same name, it is a tale of ordinary folk featuring the songs of The Proclaimers. And who doesn’t like The Proclaimers?

Revolving mainly around the love lives of friends Davy and Ally, their girlfriends Yvonne and Liz (also Davy’s sister) and Davy and Liz’ parents Rab and Jean, we follow the characters’ ups and downs as the boys return from army duty in Afghanistan, Rab and Jean prepare for their silver wedding anniversary and Liz considers making a big change to her life. Some of the dialogue can be a little cheesy in places and a couple of arguments that the younger couples have are a bit on the soap opera side of melodramatic – but one could say the same about the likes of Grease and West Side Story, and they have justifiably cemented themselves as classics of the genre.

The characters are all very likeable and portrayed as such by George MacKay (Davy), Kevin Guthrie (Ally), Antonia Thomas (Yvonne), Freya Mavor (Liz), Peter Mullan (Rab) and Jane Horrocks (Jean). Mullan in particular impresses – more commonly associated with grittier films and roles, he seems comfortable in this setting and has a good chemistry with Horrocks.

Without wanting to get all sentimental though, both songs and cast are pipped at the post for the title of star of the show – that has to go to Scotland. The country has a rich and varied film history, but more often than not features are about swinging claymores, gang warfare or – thanks to another famous son of Leith – drug culture. Sunshine on Leith is upbeat and while we may not spend our days singing and dancing on the streets it portrays a more familiar representation of the society many of us are used to than some well known Scottish features. This is particularly evident in the final scene, where a crowd joins Davy and Yvonne outside Edinburgh’s National Gallery of Scotland for a rendition of I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – where shop assistants, office workers, builders, police officers, schoolchildren, skaters, tourists, pensioners and… er… a living statue join in the fun.

The National Gallery finale is just one of the moments where Edinburgh looks great in this film. The capital’s streets have never looked so good in cinema and there are some sweeping aerial shots – of both daytime and night-time – that would have VisitScotland salivating.

So did the producers come to Glasgow to shoot rougher edges of town? No – the lights of both Cresswell Lane and Candleriggs twinkle elegantly as the young couples go on dates in what is meant to be Edinburgh. Jean works in the aforementioned National Gallery of Scotland, but the interior used for filming is actually that of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Sunshine on Leith uses more Glasgow locations than many films – including those actually set in the city – and other places we see include The Griffin (on Bath Street, just across from The King’s Theatre – which was one of the first venues to host the stage version of the musical) and Saracen’s Head (on Gallowgate) pubs, and Woodside Hall (which doubles as Leith Dockers Social Club).

There is also a cheeky little acknowledgement of Glasgow in the film. In one scene where Liz and Yvonne are helping Jean to find a dress (in another city location – Halo on Dumbarton Road) for her anniversary party, the latter asks Yvonne where she normally goes for shopping. Yvonne says “Glasgow”, to which Jean replies “That’s a bit desperate!”

Cameo Appearance: The Thomas Crown Affair

This 1999 remake of the 1968 original sees Pierce Brosnan play the role of titular character Thomas Crown – a billionaire who steals artwork simply for the thrill of the heist. When a Monet painting is stolen from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, its insurer sends investigator Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) to assist the authorities – she suspects Crown and in her pursuit of him a romance develops between the two.

In one scene, the pair are discussing the background intelligence they have on each other over dinner in an upmarket restaurant. Banning says “What impressed me most was getting from Glasgow to Oxford on a boxing scholarship”. Crown replies “Not bad for a wee lad from Glasgae” – using that perceived local way of pronouncing the city that I’ve heard in the media before but am yet to hear from any Glaswegian.

He follows with a statement in a strong Scottish accent that “rich kids cannae box” but then reverts to his usual Brosnan tones and explains that changing his voice to fit in with his new circles was a bigger feat.

It appears that Brosnan himself – whose early acting career involved treading the boards at the Citizens Theatre – decided to give Thomas Crown this Glaswegian background, something he would have influenced as a producer on the film. A 1999 article in The Herald, from the movie’s European premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, indicates that this was indeed the case.