The Wee Man was shrouded in controversy from the outset, as true crime films so often tend to be. The story of Glasgow gangland figure Paul Ferris, the film was refused assistance from Strathclyde Police due to the force’s troubled history with the man and his associates. As a result the feature could not be shot in Glasgow, with London streets standing in for the Blackhill estate and other parts of the city – an irony about this 2013 film, given that the last couple of years have seen Glasgow recognised as a logistically easier substitute for London, Philadelphia and San Francisco in other productions.
Despite the absence of principal photography in Glasgow, there are establishing shots of the city throughout and where possible local touches – such as Barr and Irn Bru logos on shops and Tennent’s beer taps in the pubs – have been added.
The Wee Man follows Ferris’ life from childhood through his formative years as a teenager and into troubled adulthood, where a culture of crime results in much bloodshed. Indeed there are some fairly violent scenes in the movie.
Martin Compston takes on the role of Ferris, leading a strong cast that includes fellow Scots John Hannah, Stephen McCole, Denis Lawson, Clare Grogan and Laura McMonagle. Irish actor Patrick Bergin also appears as the notorious “Godfather” Arthur Thompson, with Rita Tushingham playing his wife – coincidentally named Rita.
Glasgow on Film recalls, on a sunny October Sunday in 2009, returning a kilt to a hire shop in Glasgow city centre and then taking a detour to the Merchant City where filming was reportedly underway. On Wilson Street there was debris strewn everywhere – discarded luggage, waste paper and abandonded vehicles – and amidst all of this Scottish actor Ewan McGregor was wandering around.
The production being filmed was Perfect Sense, released in 2011 to critical acclaim (winning Best British Feature at the Edinburgh International Film Festival that year).
McGregor is joined in Perfect Sense by Eva Green – mentioned previously as one of “Glasgow’s Global Visitors” – and a supporting cast that includes his Trainspotting (another film with Glasgow links) co-star Ewen Bremner, his real life uncle Denis Lawson, Stephen Dillane and Connie Nielsen. The film follows the blossoming romance between McGregor’s chef Michael and Green’s epidemiologist Susan – the complication in this particular love story though is the epidemic that is sweeping the globe and robbing everybody of their senses: smell, taste, hearing and sight.
It is a unique film in a number of ways: most films involving viruses and epidemics follow a similar route, but in Perfect Sense there are no zombies, no screaming primates, no gunfire – instead, with the exception of some moments of high emotion that occur just before the loss of a sense, we see people in Glasgow and beyond doing their best to adapt to the sudden and shocking developments that appear to be affecting all human life; in the practically silent ending to the film – as Michael and Susan embrace just as they lose the power of sight – the idea of six billion people no longer able to hear or see hits the viewer as a more terrifying prospect than most of the “end of civilisation” scenarios that have been played out on screen before.
As for Glasgow’s role in Perfect Sense, this is one of the finest examples of the city being portrayed in film as a normal working and living city – just as the feature avoids many epidemic movie tropes, it presents Glasgow without relying on excessive grit or caricatures. The film also makes good use of locations around the city centre and west end.