Young Adam is a 2003 film with a strong cast headed by Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan and Emily Mortimer. It is directed by David Mackenzie, who also directed the previously featured Perfect Sense as well as some other movies with Glasgow ties that Glasgow on Film will look at in the future.
Two things stand out about Young Adam: a fair amount of sex takes place in the film, including a particularly messy scene involving McGregor, Mortimer and the contents of a kitchen; McGregor is involved in two different strands of the film and the viewer is presented with quite a twist when the link between the two becomes apparent. In fact GoF will not go into too much detail in its synopsis so as not to spoil the movie for any readers who have not seen it.
Set in 1950s Scotland – primarily along the route of the Forth and Clyde canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh but with some scenes taking place in Glasgow itself – the film follows central character Joe (McGregor), who stays on a barge with his employer Les (Mullan) and Les’ wife Ella (Swinton). The film opens with Joe and Les discovering the dead body of a young woman in a river and throughout the film there are references to the resultant investigation and court case – Glasgow’s citizens are quite appalled by the apparent murder, but Les seems proud of his part in the story and almost feels like he is entitled to celebrity status for finding the body. Les for the most part shows affection to Ella but she is disillusioned with their marriage and ends up in a number of passionate encounters with Joe, ultimately leading to separation from Les and the latter’s departure from the barge. We are also made aware of a serious relationship between Joe and Cathie (Emily Mortimer).
Young Adam is a well produced film – as mentioned above, the twist in the tale certainly took GoF by surprise. Excellent use is made of the filming locations and Glasgow shines as a bustling postwar city where industrial decline was yet to fully set in. In one scene in particular, where Joe and Cathie meet outside a book shop, St. Andrew’s Street is transformed into a 1950s set with the level of attention to detail that as viewers we experience regularly for period pieces set in the likes of London and New York, but not so often for portraying a Glasgow of yesteryear.
Trainspotting 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.
Manchester 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.
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.