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;
Sunshine On Leith delivers a bright, cheery, big-hearted smile of a movie.”
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
But I can't understand why we let someone else rule our land, cap in hand
“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.”
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