Often when I’m watching films for the purpose of writing about them on this blog, I’m sitting taking a lot of notes. I also find myself frequently pausing the movie to take a closer look at a location, or skipping back to catch a bit I’d missed because I was too busy scribbling down notes.
I had my pen and paper at the ready for Ratcatcher, but it is such a captivating film that I found myself giving it my full attention – only going back to take notes once the closing credits had rolled.
The 1999 movie – the first full length feature film to be directed by Glaswegian Lynne Ramsay – is set in Glasgow in 1973. The film opens with a tragedy in which central character James, a young boy played by William Eadie, is involved although his part in the incident is not revealed to the other characters. What follows is something of a snapshot of life in a run down Glasgow housing estate in the 1970s – through James’ eyes we see the strain placed on a low income family living together in such small quarters, the unusual friendship with the slightly older schoolgirl Margaret Anne and of course the backdrop of a city undergoing change with the added complication of a binmen’s strike.
At points in the film it seems like there is no obvious plot as such – just people plodding along with life – but ultimately the socially awkward James’ guilt about the opening incident is always hanging over him.
Glasgow locations include the banks of the Clyde canal, with areas such as Dennistoun, Maryhill and even the spires of Park Circus providing the backdrops along its route. The housing estate scenes are always atmospheric – despite their decline and depopulation, a sense that they are still living and breathing communities is tangible in the film. Perhaps one of the most striking images to be presented on these streets is the sight of army trucks sweeping around a corner – not to drag people from their flats or to protect them from zombies, but simply to clear up the rubbish.
Talking of striking images – more unusual features that contrast against the grey estate and the dark canal are the view of a vast cornfield from the window of an under construction housing development and a dream-like sequence involving a mouse travelling to the moon.
Last word on this post goes to a great cameo appearance – when James’ father (Tommy Flanagan) is collecting a bravery award, the man presenting it to him is legendary Glasgow Lord Provost (who was in office at the time of the film’s production) Pat Lally.