Stunt Double: The Debt Collector

debt collectordebt collector 2debt collector 3I first saw The Debt Collector in 2001 on television, a couple of years after its 1999 release. Re-watching it recently I was reminded of what compelling viewing it is, and at the same time how brutally violent it is in certain scenes – one early scene involving Iain Robertson as the character Flipper and Julie Wilson Nimmo in a minor role still made me flinch on second viewing 12 years later.

The film opens in the 1970s with Ken Stott’s detective Gary Keltie capturing Billy Connolly’s murderous “debt collector”  Nickie Dryden for his crimes. We then fast forward to 1999, where a reformed and released Dryden is now a respected artist married to journalist Val, played by Francesca Annis. Keltie is disgusted at the sight of Dryden in this perfect world – glittering receptions, book festival appearances, attractive wife – while he struggles to make ends meet and lives with his dementia suffering mother (Annette Crosbie). It becomes his mission to humiliate Dryden at every opportunity and the detective becomes more and more obsessed to a disturbing extent. Dryden attempts to retain composure but this becomes increasingly difficult, and even more so when Flipper enters the equation. A troubled and violent young man, he regards the Dryden of old as an idol and when his hero shuns him he takes measures that create a devastating chain of events for all of the main characters.

The acting in The Debt Collector is excellent – beardless Connolly is in arguably one of his most serious roles, and certainly a million miles from cheerful anecdotes on Parkinson. Teenaged Robertson presents us with a character that is both menacing and pathetic, and Annis gives a powerful performance as Val’s rather pleasant lifestyle begins to crumble. Stott meanwhile is remarkable as the obsessed detective – while one feels pity for him at times, it’s hard not to see him as somewhat hateful at points and even feel sympathy for Dryden as a result. In addition to the sterling leading performances it is also good to see a real who’s who of famous Scots – including the aforementioned Wilson Nimmo and Crosbie, Ford Kiernan, Ronni Ancona, Jimmy Logan and Una McLean – play parts in this first class film.

It’s yet another film in which Glasgow stands in for Edinburgh in a number of scenes and it’s tempting to ask why this feature couldn’t simply have been set in the Dear Green Place, however a climax at the castle with the sounds of the Tattoo in the background makes the capital setting worth it. Among the Glasgow locations noticeable in The Debt Collector are Linn Crematorium and the Mitchell Theatre, whose facade portrays that of an art gallery housing Dryden’s exhibition.

Movie Glaswegians: Billy Connolly

billy connollyWhere does one begin with this guy? Well, the most appropriate place tonight would be with a review of the BAFTA event – A Life In Pictures: Billy Connolly, which Glasgow on Film had the pleasure of attending this evening in Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket.

Writer, critic and broadcaster Francine Stock, who presents BBC Radio 4’s The Film Programme, welcomed the large audience (which included actors Sanjeev Kohli and Paul Young) and introduced Billy Connolly before sitting down to interview him.

As we will come to, Connolly has had a rich and varied life with a cultural career including folk music, television presenting and of course stand up comedy however tonight was all about his film career. To hers and the audience’s amusement, Ms Stock could barely get a word in edgeways at times as the former shipyard welder recounted some extremely funny anecdotes throughout the approximately 90 minute interview. The interview was laced with clips from his film career, specifically appearances in Absolution, Mrs Brown, The Man Who Sued God, Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, Still Crazy and his latest, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet.

These titles put into context some of his tales, for example: while playing a dead body half submerged in soil in Absolution, the legendary Richard Burton’s priest character was to be leaning over the corpse and praying – in the film we see Burton from behind, but in reality Connolly was having to play dead while Burton mischievously sang I Belong To Glasgow in his face; he also described his fondness for a snake that he worked with in Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events and recalled a recent interaction with a journalist from the Foreign Press Association, the body responsible for the Golden Globe awards. The woman, who from his impersonation appeared to be of Germanic background, had apparently said in all seriousness “You are so funny and making us all laugh – have you ever considered stand up comedy?” His response was “Have you ever considered a career in journalism”.

The evening finished with Connolly answering questions asked by audience members, before Clydebank-born comedian Kevin Bridges came on stage to present him with an Outstanding Contribution to Television and Film Award.

So, what else to say about arguably Glasgow’s most famous son? To give a very concise history of the man, he was born in the city on 24th November 1942 and during the 1960s worked on the Clyde shipyards like many of his fellow citizens at the time. Towards the mid 1960s he formed the folk band The Humblebums with Tam Harvey and Gerry Rafferty, and then in the 1970s – after the band had split up – he made a name for himself in stand up comedy, with exposure through Michael Parkinson’s Parkinson chat show propelling him to become a UK household name and ultimately someone recognised and admired around the world.

The movies to have featured Connolly mentioned above only scratch the surface – other roles include those in The Last Samurai and The X Files: I Want To Believe, while he has played Kings in both Gulliver’s Travels and Brave. Glasgow-linked films in which he has appeared are The Big Man and The Debt Collector.

While the father of five now lives in New York with his second wife (of over 20 years), actress and psychologist Pamela Stephenson, he retains strong ties with Glasgow. In 2006 he was given an honorary degree by the city’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and four years later was awarded the freedom of the city of Glasgow. He is a well documented fan of Celtic Football Club, with a seat for life at Celtic Park.