Stunt Double: Sunshine on Leith

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!”

Recommended Reading: World Film Locations: Glasgow

world film locationsA couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had received my copy of World Film Locations: Glasgow, edited by Nicola Balkind. Having finished reading it recently I’m pleased to say it’s a great read.

We are very lucky that our city has such a rich history and that is reflected on the shelves of Glasgow’s book stores – not every city in Britain or indeed Europe will have as many tomes devoted to its sporting achievements, its architecture, its musical heritage, its dialect, its public transport… But until fairly recently there’s not been a huge amount published about Glasgow’s significant place in the world of cinema. World Film Locations: Glasgow helps ensure that this important chapter in Glasgow’s history is recorded in book form and as a bonus its own recommended reading section has pointed me in the direction of some other books on the matter which I look forward to sourcing and reading.

The joy of the book is being reminded how many movies have been made in Glasgow – there are brilliant two-page features on 38 films, each consisting of concise and interesting summaries of the plots and locations, and illustrated with captures from those productions. The films featured span the decades from O Lucky Man! in 1973 to Perfect Sense in 2011 and in addition to these features many more films are referenced, such as 1996’s Small Faces and the recently released Cloud Atlas.

Alongside the individual movie features sits a series of essays, opening nicely with Paul Gallagher’s Glasgow: City of the Imagination and concluding with Nicola Balkind’s Glasgow: Hollywood’s Film Set, which itself concludes with a stirring opinion on the potential of Glasgow’s film-making future. The other essays are Cinema City: Glasgow’s Passion for Cinema by Neil Johnson-Symington; Glaswegian Comedy: A Distinct Sense of Humour by Keir Hind; The Gift of Constraint: Danish-Scottish Collaboration and the Advance Party by Pasquale Iannone; Glasgow’s Kitchen Sink: The Cinema of Ken Loach and Peter Mullan by David Archibald; Dear Green Shoots: Underground Film-Making In Glasgow by Sean Welsh. All essays both educate and entertain.

It was particularly nice to see the former Toledo cinema in Muirend discussed in Neil Johnson-Symington’s essay – as a child of the 1980s this was my local cinema as the Cannon initially and then taking on the ABC and Odeon names before its sad closure. This was where I made my first cinema visit aged five- to see Superman IV: The Quest For Peace!

World Film Locations: Glasgow is available to order on Amazon.

Starring Role: Young Adam

young adam 2young adamyoung adam 3Young 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.

Starring Role: NEDS

nedsneds 2NEDS is a labour of love from Peterhead-born Peter Mullan (who grew up in Glasgow and attended the University of Glasgow) – he wrote and directed the film and also acts in it.

Set in the 1970s (opening in 1972 but progressing through some years), the movie is set predominantly in the Cardonald area of Glasgow. The story follows the life of teenager John McGill, played initially by Greg Forrest in a younger incarnation of the character and throughout the rest of the feature by Conor McCarron – both young actors making their screen debuts.

John is the middle child in a working class family, headed by an alcholic father (played by Peter Mullan) and a mother (Louise Goodall) who is a nurse – he has a younger sister and an older brother, a black sheep who no longer lives in the family home. As the film opens John looks like a young man with a bright future as we see him presented with a prize on graduation from primary school. Immediately after the presentation ceremony he is threatened by an older boy and this leads to his first brush with the violence that is to become a theme of the film – having been told about the threat, John’s older brother Benny (Joe Szula) gives the bully – Canta, played by Gary Milligan – a serious roughing up which stops short of him smashing a glass bottle over his head. Despite this, John progresses into high school where he continues to impress academically. Eventually though a series of other confrontations, coupled with his falling in with “the wrong crowd”, leads to a dramatic change in character. John goes off the rails somewhat, disrespecting his teachers, brutally attacking his father and carrying out other acts of violence that shock even some of the other “NEDs” in his gang. Ultimately he suffers a total breakdown.

NEDS is a fine film with good performances from all, particulary the younger members of the cast. The 1970s atmosphere is well presented in everything from the sets and costumes to the music and background television shows (which almost lend a light-heartedness to some more serious scenes) and even the lighting – the sun seems to shine a lot, which is what it always seems like in films and television shows actually from that decade.

Stunt Double: Trainspotting

trainspottingtrainspotting 2trainspotting 3trainspotting 4Trainspotting 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.