This 1986 film, also known as The Gospel According to Vic in some parts, is a real gem in Glasgow’s film history. Starring Tom Conti and Helen Mirren as teachers Vic and Ruth, Heavenly Pursuits follows a very original storyline – at a time when school and church authorities are keen to see a sainthood bestowed on the namesake of the Blessed Edith Semple School, a series of potentially miraculous occurrences captures the attention of the whole of Glasgow and gets cynical Vic thinking twice.
The film opens in Rome – where Brian Pettifer’s Father Cobb is visiting the Vatican (in fact the interior is Glasgow City Chambers) to petition a senior figure in the Catholic church on the Edith Semple matter – before switching from the grandeur of St. Peter’s Square to the Glasgow skyline under a rather murky sky. But this is not setting us up for a “grim Glasgow” tale – some years before its City of Culture renaissance the city looks fantastic throughout and it is a cheerful and upbeat movie.
The cast is first class. Conti and Mirren are on fine form as always and the former in particular is really well paired with David Hayman as his friend and union rep Jeff. As mentioned above Brian Pettifer is the school’s chaplain, and he is joined by Dave Anderson as the headmaster. Other well known Scottish faces to appear include Juliet Cadzow and Ron Donachie. The school pupils are great too – there’s a particularly joyous scene when young Stevie, whose abilities are a cause for concern to some, beats Vic in an impromptu contest to list motorcycle brands. It’s a moment of glory for Stevie as the kids all cheer him on excitedly and it’s a defeat that Vic is more than happy to accept. Stevie – incidentally – is played by a young Ewen Bremner, and Tony Curran is also listed as one of the pupils in the credits. And one final note on the names to pop up in Heavenly Pursuits – Gordon Jackson appears as himself discussing the newspapers (in particular the Blessed Edith Semple School story) on breakfast television with broadcaster Sheena McDonald.
Glasgow is another star of the film and locations featured include Glasgow Cathedral, the Victoria Infirmary, Great Western Road, Sauchiehall Street, the Western Infirmary, Renfield Street, the Kingston Bridge and Queen Street Station. The exterior used for the school at the centre of all the action is that of Queen’s Park Secondary School on Grange Road – the school has since been demolished and a modern satellite building to the Victoria Infirmary now stands on the site.
The sight of Queen’s Park Secondary was a blast from the past and that is another enjoyable feature of Heavenly Pursuits – the nostalgia. If you remember Glasgow in the 1980s look out for glimpses of Wimpy on Sauchiehall Street and Pizzaland just across the road from it, the Odeon on Renfield Street, the Irn Bru clock on Union Street, John Menzies in Queen Street Station and orange buses galore.
Completing the package is an excellent soundtrack from BA Robertson. With Heavenly Pursuits writer and director Charles Gormley has presented a charming Glasgow feature that can sit comfortably alongside bigger budget Hollywood productions of its time.
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.
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 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.
Born in Glasgow on 13th December 1969, Tony Curran is a much respected actor whose face is familiar on screens big and small in both British and American productions.
His first onscreen appearance according to IMDb was in a 1986 television Dramarama production called Wayfarers, while his first recorded movie role was in Bill Forsyth’s Being Human in 1994. Since these early days in his screen career Curran has taken on one off parts in television series – from minor police officer roles in Rab C. Nesbitt, Grange Hill and The Bill to a critically acclaimed turn as Vincent Van Gogh in a 2010 episode of Doctor Who and appearances in Boardwalk Empire and the rebooted Hawaii Five-O – as well as playing recurring characters in the likes of This Life and Ultimate Force.
In movies his credits include Gladiator, The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn, Pearl Harbor and X-Men: First Class. He played the key role of Clyde in the Glasgow-set Red Road – previously featured on this blog – and for this performance won the Best Actor category at the 2006 BAFTA Scotland Awards and British Independent Film Awards.
Tony Curran’s Wikipedia entry states that he attended Holyrood Secondary School and graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize, multiple Scottish BAFTAs, rave reviews packed with words like “magnificent”, “classy” and “enticing”… Red Road is a must see for thriller aficionados. Yet it is done in a style that perhaps Glasgow can deliver best in terms of both its location and its talent – it is a thriller without races against time, melodrama and Psycho-style music strains; it is a thriller with pedestrian settings, down to earth but still first class acting and a story that keeps the viewer curious and then rewards them with a big reveal.
The film stars East Kilbride born Kate Dickie as Jackie, a CCTV operator watching over the streets of Glasgow from the small and dark confines of an operations centre. Jackie appears to be someone with a void in her life – starting with a slightly awkward encounter with her father in law, we gradually learn more about her family life as the story develops and it becomes clear that she is someone who has suffered loss. She is also having an affair with one of her colleagues.
Early in the film Jackie becomes interested by a man she spots on one of the monitors and this begins to develop into an obsession to the point that she heads to the area on which she has seen him on screen – Barmulloch and the Red Road flats of the titles. Spying on him initially from afar, the seemingly quiet and inward Jackie even lies her way into a party in the flats to come face to face with the man. It is at the party that we are introduced to the other main characters: Clyde, the object of her interest, played by Glasgow’s Tony Curran; his friend Stevie, played by Martin Compston; and Stevie’s girlfriend April, played by Natalie Press.
Jackie spends more time with the three Red Road residents, leading to passionate scenes involving her and Clyde. But sex has not been her aim and ultimately we discover what has been fuelling her obsession. The character of Jackie is likeable and – as mentioned earlier – down to earth and therefore it is satisfying to see the woman finish the film as a happier and more relaxed individual than she is for most of the feature.
As for Glasgow’s role in the film – it is not an image of grandeur that is painted, but the area of the city most prominently featured is presented with realism and without resorting to negative caricatures.