Movie Glaswegians: Freya Mavor

freya mavorAs one of the younger members of Glasgow’s lengthy film acting roll of honour, Freya Mavor’s screen career is in its infancy however the term “quality, not quantity” can be applied to the handful of on screen roles that she has built up so far.

While she grew up and studied in Edinburgh (and also studied at one point in France), Mavor was born in Glasgow – on 13th August 1993 – and therefore qualifies without question for the “Movie Glaswegians” strand of this blog. Furthermore her two feature film credits to date – Sunshine on Leith and Not Another Happy Ending – were both made in the city.

On the small screen she has played parts in mini-series The White Queen and New Worlds, and was one of the main characters in the fifth and sixth series of Channel 4 comedy drama Skins. The latter has had a good track record of employing young actors – Nicholas Hoult, Jack O’Connell, Dev Patel, to name a few – who go on to have successful film careers so this could bode well for Freya Mavor too. Film magazine Screen International predicts a bright future for the actress, naming her – along with the likes of Cush Jumbo, Luke Newberry and Will Poulter – as one of their “UK Stars of Tomorrow” in 2013.

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.

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!”

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.