Glasgow on Film: An Update

New Look

If you’ve visited this blog before you’ll notice a bit of a change. After putting off for ages what I thought would be a long and complex task, a few clicks on the WordPress control panel gave Glasgow on Film a bit of a makeover. I think it looks a tiny bit more stylish now, but more importantly I think it will be easier on the reader’s eye (the previous all-orange background was maybe a bit much).

Summer’s Here (Kind of)

My posts have again become less frequent than I’d like them to be, but that’s something I aim to work on as there is plenty more of Glasgow’s film story to tell. In fact, it’s a story that keeps growing arms and legs so I really should keep up!

While I’ve got a significant catalogue of well established Glasgow-set films waiting to be written about (God Help the Girl and That Sinking Feeling among those I have viewed and prepared notes on), lots of things that set our great city apart from many of its peers have been popping up so far this summer…

pacinoI like to keep a tally on here of the big Hollywood names to visit Glasgow (another seemingly endless list with plenty more tales to be told) and this roll of honour added a big hitter in May when the legendary Al Pacino appeared at the Clyde Auditorium. This wasn’t a highly guarded film shoot or a private getaway, but an up close and personal opportunity for a Glaswegian audience to hear the star talk to them about his career.

Last month also saw the cinema release of Spooks: The Greater Good, the unexpected spin-off from one of my favourite television series. This wasn’t so big a story for Glasgow but – you know me – I like a good mention of our town on the big screen and this movie delivered that more than once in a dramatic scene.

Look out in future for full “Glasgow’s Global Visitors” and “Cameo Appearance” posts on these two snippets. I wanted to finish by looking in more detail at a couple of bigger recent stories relating to Glasgow and film…

The Legend of Barney Thomson

Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut opened the Edinburgh International Film Festival last week, and this is a movie I am very much looking forward to seeing. With an impressive cast that includes Carlyle himself, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Martin Compston, Tom Courtenay and Stephen McCole, the dark comedy looks fun and riotous. As you will see in the trailer below it wears Glasgow distinctly on its sleeve too. A review post will follow at a later date, including my own experience as an extra for a day on the film. (We’ll soon find out if I made the final cut – no barber pun intended).

Florence Foster Jenkins

This was one that came out of the blue on Friday night. I’d actually gone to bed and was just scrolling through Twitter when Daily Record journalist Bev Lyons’ Tweet about a Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant movie filming in Glasgow caught my eye. After initially resisting curiosity I was soon fully dressed again and in the car to Hillhead’s Kersland Street, which had been transformed into 1940s New York.

Bev Lyons’ article confirmed that Stephen Frears’ latest biopic – about American socialite Florence Foster Jenkins – had relocated from its main Liverpool base for the day to shoot some scenes in the Dear Green Place. Whether Streep was present in Glasgow or not is unconfirmed, but press photography showed Hugh Grant in Hillhead and earlier at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – reportedly doubling for Carnegie Hall. It would appear that this day and night shoot was a flying visit as no further filming in Glasgow has been reported. I did take a couple of pictures on Kersland Street – not the sharpest as I had flash off for obvious reasons, but you get the general idea…

SONY DSC

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.

Starring Role: The Wee Man

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.

The Wee Man 6Despite 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.

Starring Role: Donkeys

Donkeys – released in 2010, and winning Best Film at the 2011 BAFTA Scotland Awards – was the second release in a planned trilogy from the Scottish-Danish “Advance Party” collaboration. The first instalment was 2006’s Red Road and characters from that film Stevie (Martin Compston) and Jackie (Kate Dickie) return to play parts in a very different story. Tony Curran’s Clyde from Red Road also makes the most fleeting of cameo appearances.Donkeys 6

The most central characters are however old friends Alfred (James Cosmo) and Brian (Brian Pettifer). The film begins with the pair sitting in an empty looking Glasgow Airport, preparing to set off for a new life in Spain, however the plans stall and we soon learn that Alfred is not a well man. He sets out to straighten out parts of his life before it is too late – including trying to reconnect with his daughter Jackie and meeting and getting to know his illegitimate son Stevie, going about the latter in an unconventional way that causes awkwardness for all concerned. James Cosmo – rarely cast as a lead character – is excellent as Alfred, a man who is not a bad guy but displays some incredible stupidity that affects everyone around him.Donkeys 5

Donkeys is a fine example of a black comedy – there are some truly touching moments, but a number of hilarious lines. Malaga being described as “basically a warm Pontin’s” and Alfred using the phrase “they get things out” when telling his granddaughter about the birds and the bees are just two of the examples of the humour that features throughout.

A wealth of Glasgow locations all across the city are used in the film, including The Barras market, Queens Park and Anderston – where Alfred’s flat is located.

Starring Role: The Angels’ Share

The Angels' ShareThe Angels' Share 2The Angels' Share 3When thinking about it, it’s surprising that Glasgow on Film hasn’t featured a movie directed by Ken Loach so far – surprising as there are so many of them set in Glasgow. Carla’s Song, My Name Is Joe, Ae Fond Kiss and most recently The Angels’ Share… all are set in Glasgow, while Sweet Sixteen is set not far away in Greenock and some filming for that title also took place in the city. What is quite remarkable is that the man who directed 2012’s The Angels’ Share – a realistic and contemporary drama surrounding a group of young Glaswegians – is the same man who directed the classic Kes 43 years earlier. Among his other non-Glasgow movie credits are Looking For Eric, which features footballer Eric Cantona, and The Wind That Shakes The Barley, starring Cillian Murphy.

The Scottish influence on this catalogue of films comes from writer Paul Laverty (born in India to a Scottish father and Irish mother, studied in Glasgow), who Loach collaborates with frequently – he is responsible for the majority of screenplays on Loach-directed films since their first collaboration on Carla’s Song in 1996.

Also notable about the production of The Angels’ Share – before we get to the plot – is its cast. In 2002 then teenaged footballer Martin Compston was cast in the lead role of Sweet Sixteen, his first ever acting role. A decade on and Compston (who, for the avoidance of confusion, does not appear in The Angels’ Share)  is one of the UK’s most respected young actors on both film and television. History appears to be repeating itself with the lead actor in The Angels’ Share – Paul Brannigan. As with Compston, Brannigan was cast in the lead role with no prior acting experience, and has spoken openly in the media about being a young offender in his youth and being in serious debt prior to the beginning of his acting career – a career which is quickly blossoming as he is linked with the forthcoming films Under The Skin and Sunshine On Leith. Also making their acting debuts in Sweet Sixteen were Gary Maitland and William Ruane – now a familiar face on Scottish television – and both appear in prominent roles in The Angels’ Share. Completing the cast are well known English actors John Henshaw and Roger Allam, young actors Jasmin Riggins and Siobhan Reilly and real-life Scotch whisky expert Charles MacLean, who appears in the role of Rory McAllister.

So what is The Angels’ Share about? Central characters Robbie (Brannigan), Albert (Maitland), Mo (Riggins) and Rhino (Ruane) are thrown together on community service under the supervision of Henshaw’s Harry. The affable Harry takes pity on Robbie when his girlfriend’s male relatives violently attempt to exclude him from the life of the couple’s newly born baby boy. At his flat Harry gives whisky virgin Robbie a glass of a vintage Scotch to toast the birth of his son, and from there an interest and an apparent talent for identifying the components of a good whisky develop. Via visits to a distillery and a whisky tasting session in Edinburgh, the young group find themselves travelling north to the Balblair distillery where a “holy grail” cask of Malt Mill whisky, valued at over £1 million, is up for auction. The group siphon a few Irn Bru bottles full of the valuable liquid from the cask, replacing what is taken with whisky from another cask, and everyone – including the rich American who places the successful bid – is none the wiser. Robbie sells one of the bottles to Allam’s whisky collector for £100,000 and sets off in a camper van to start a new life with his girlfriend and son – not before leaving the other remaining bottle with a thank you note for Harry.

This is an excellent film on many levels and makes good use of locations in Glasgow and beyond. The film is described in its official blurb as “bittersweet” and that is spot on – there are violent scenes, sad scenes and it appears at times that there can be no return from the low point that Robbie’s life has reached, but on an upbeat note there is the comedy of Albert, the hope represented by Robbie’s young family, the good nature of Harry and of course the happy ending. The acting is first class too – as is the style with many of Loach’s films, the actors do not always appear if they are acting… if that makes sense. The flow of conversation between characters is very natural – one could believe they were eavesdropping on a real life conversation, not listening to actors who are working from a script. Paul Brannigan impresses in his debut, as mentioned above Gary Maitland is hilarious at times and a special mention must be made of Charles MacLean, who is a natural in his cameo appearance – GoF had actually assumed he was an experienced actor until spotting an article about the man in his day job in an inflight magazine.

Deservedly, Loach won the Jury Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for The Angels’ Share.