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!”