The Point
Last updated: 19 June 2017.

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Some Shite on Leith

Graeme McIver hides his season ticket for Tynecastle and takes at look at Dexter Fletcher’s feel good movie of the year. It’s the film that should have been loved. The movie that ought to make his heart fly, so why is it he’s on his way from happiness to misery today…uh ha. (That’s enough corny Proclaimers song references…Ed)

Hmmm…how do you start to write a review of a film you weren’t particularly enamoured with when Impact Magazine, (Official Student Magazine of the University of Nottingham) says; You will have to be an unusually cold-hearted and miserable person if you aren’t slightly warmed by Sunshine on Leith.?

Cold hearted? Miserable? Me?

Maybe I am. Maybe in my dotage I’ve turned into one of those grumpy old men who complain about everything late at night on BBC2. Either that or people who know me will point to my football allegiance and say that I was never going to give a film based on the anthem of my team’s greatest rivals a fair and unbiased review. I can hear them now…”you just wanted to call the review Some Shite on Leith to suit your petty Hearts obsessed agenda!” But I have a confession to make. I actually quite like The Proclaimers. I even quite like the song Sunshine on Leith! (There I‘ve said it.) It’s just this film I don’t like.

 

 

 Director Dexter Fletcher has taken Stephen Greenhorn’s stage play first performed by the Dundee Rep and transferred it to the big screen to much critical acclaim. The publicity poster boasts some stunning reviews including the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye stating; “Simply glorious…the feel fabulous film of the year” whilst the Daily Express says; “Exuberantly funny and achingly tender…I loved it.” Influential movie critic Mark Kermode loved the film whilst Empire Magazine’s verdict was that; “Sunshine On Leith delivers a bright, cheery, big-hearted smile of a movie.” Audiences the length and breadth of the country seem to adore it. I watched it in a cinema in the English coastal town of Cleavleys where amusingly a subtitled version was on offer to the presumably bemused residents of Lancashire struggling to cope with some of the broad East Coast brogue.

The Proclaimers have spent much of their career as a somewhat left field band with a niche following. Nowadays however they seem to have moved very much into the mainstream helped by the popularity of songs like ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’ and others like, ‘I’m On My Way’ which was used on the soundtrack of the kids film Shrek. A collaboration with comedian Peter Kay saw ‘I’m Gonna Be’ reach top spot in the charts in 2007.This film will cement their place in Scottish cultural consciousness

The Proclaimers have always been a band with a political edge and have never hid their left wing views, republicanism or their support for Scottish Independence. (Which makes their recent support for The Royal British Legion somewhat of a surprise.) They made a huge impact when they made their first national TV appearance when they performed “Throw the R’ Away” live on the Tube in 1987.

I'm just going to have to learn to hesitate
To make sure my words
On your Saxon ears don't grate
But I wouldn't know a single word to say
If I flattened all the vowels
And threw the 'R' away

On their seventh studio album, Life With You, released in 2007 the Reid twins showed their distain for the honours system and those who received them;

In recognition of your service to the working class
In recognition of your party loyalty
You get an ermine robe
And you declare when you are probed
You only took it so the missus would be pleased

In spite of all your claims
It looks like you’re just the same
As every other clown who likes to put the crown
Before or after their names

On the album Sunshine on Leith the duo wrote the song, ‘Cap in Hand’ expressing their frustrations that Scotland was not in charge of its own destiny,

But I can't understand why we let someone else rule our land, cap in hand

I wonder what Craig and Charlie think of The Daily Mail’s Chris Tookey’s assessment about what the movie Sunshine on Leith represents…

“In view of the Scottish independence referendum next year, it’s a valuable reminder of the qualities that north of the border brings to the UK.This is a movie for those who love Britain, the whole of Britain — and the best of British cinema.”

I had actually hoped I would enjoy the film based on the music of the band and my first impressions were good. We are introduced to the two main characters Ally (Kevin Guthrie) and Davy (George MacKay) during the film’s tense and dramatic opening. As a British Army convoy passes through a remote corner of Helmand Province, the two and their squad sing, ‘Sky Takes the Soul’ from the Proclaimers debut album, ‘This is The Story.’

It could be tomorrow, or it could be today
When the sky takes the soul
The earth takes the clay
I sometimes wonder why I pray
When my spirit drives away
With a faith and a bit of luck
And a half-tonne bomb in the back of a truck

The song is interrupted by a blinding flash of light as a roadside IED detonates as their armoured vehicle passes. The powerful drama of the opening scene soon dissipates however as we next see the two skipping through Edinburgh like a latter day Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in On the Town singing, “I’m on my Way from Misery to Happiness Today.” It’s at this point that I start to have my first doubts about the nature of these so-called juke box musicals ability to construct a believable and credible narrative. In the classic musicals a story and plot are established first of all and then songs and music are commissioned to compliment the narrative. In productions like Mama Mia, We Will Rock You and here in Sunshine on Leith the process is reversed. A plot is clumsily constructed around a series of otherwise unrelated songs.

 

This leads to the plot and its development being illuminated by huge neon signs that point towards which songs from The Reid twins back catalogue will be utilised. We know that there will be a rendition of (the excellent) ‘Jean’ as it’s the name of Davy’s Mother. We know somebody’s going to emigrate to America just so that they can write a letter, in all probability one character will say to their partner, Let’s Get Married and at some point a cast member will profess their undying love for another by stating they will walk 500 miles to prove it. A nadir is reached in the strangely and unnecessarily fraught relationship between Davy and Yvonne (Antonia Thomas).  The characters, “meet” and we are told she lives in “Morningside”. It seems this plot development was based around the need to shoehorn in the song ‘Then I Met You’ containing the line,

“And then one night I went to Morningside and you were waiting
I met you.”

Two scenes that have met with almost universal acclaim are Jane Horrocks rendition of the title song and the flash mob style finale where 500 miles gets its inevitable airing. In the former I found her version lacking the charm and strength of the original whilst the latter had me peering through my fingers in embarrassment as the space in front of the Scottish National Gallery was turned into a cross between an episode of Glee and the camp dancing scene at the end of the Mel Brookes film Blazing Saddles.

Another criticism I have of the film is that there is no development of apparently interesting characters like Ronnie the injured soldier, (played here by Paul Brannigan who was superb in Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share) or Peter Mullen’s newly discovered daughter from a one-night stand twenty four years previously.

 

Just to prove to the students of Nottingham that I’m not a complete cold-hearted misery the film does have some good points. Peter Mullan and Jane Horrocks are both excellent even if her accent, although not too bad, slips into caricature at times. The film has plenty of fun moments, not least the ‘Let’s Get Married’ scene and the Jason Flemyng led rendition of ‘Should Have Been Loved.’ It is also a joy to hear Scottish East Coast accents take precedence for a change although there are not enough of them in the film. Best of all however is seeing Edinburgh on the big screen. The city itself steals the show although it is noticeable that some of the outdoor scenes are shot somewhat sacrilegiously in Glasgow of all places! This is a film with its heart in the right place because it is based around songs with a message and a soul. The most emotive scene for me is when the cast sing, ‘Letter from America’ after Mullan explains to his daughter that the Scots have always had to move to find work. The words have a particular resonance in a week where the name of Grangemouth could be added to the list of Scottish towns devastated by the loss of industry mentioned in the song.

I wonder my blood will you ever return
To help us kick the life back to a dying mutual friend?
Do we not love her I think we all tell you about
Do we have to roam the world to prove how much it hurts?



I seem to be out of step with main stream opinion as almost without exception everyone else I’ve asked who has seen the film loved it. I’m going to stick by my guns though and believe that it would be possible to produce a good film, with all its feel good moments and all its musical numbers that didn’t feel like the plot was agreed after a majority vote at the committee of The Clichéd Soap Opera Writers Guild. 

 

Other articles by Graeme McIver in The Point can be found here

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books