THE Silver Darlings – the Neil M Gunn book about Scottish herring fisherfolk – is set for the silver screen.
And it is the producer of bawdy smash-hit comedy The Inbetweeners, which made £45 million at the British box office, who is turning his attention from English teenagers to invest in a movie adaptation of the classic Scottish novel.
Christopher Young, the Skye-based producer, whose company Young Films made millions last year from the movie based on the Channel 4 television sitcom, has bought the screen rights to the 1941 novel, which is set in the 19th-century fishing industry.
He hopes to turn Gunn’s novel into a multi-million film starring actors such as Kelly Macdonald, Daniel Day-Lewis and James McAvoy.
Young said: “I have recently acquired the rights to the book and I suppose for me things have changed considerably since The Inbetweeners movie. It has allowed me to think again about dream projects and we are looking at screenwriters at the moment. The context of the adaptation of The Silver Darlings is to make it a very successful, popular mainstream film. The book is a masterpiece, not known outside Scotland but known and loved in Scotland.”
The 600-page book is regarded as a masterpiece of Scottish literature. Published in 1941, it tells the story of Gaelic crofters who, having been driven off their land during the Clearances, seek their fortune at sea fishing for herring, or “Silver Darlings”.
The story centres around Catrine, a woman who loses her husband in a fishing accident and is determined that her son, Finn, will not suffer the same fate. However, when she falls in love with Robbie, captain of the most successful fishing boat in the harbour, Finn becomes dangerously drawn to the sea.
For many years playwright John McGrath, who wrote The Cheviot, The Stag And The Black, Black Oil, owned the film rights. he hoped to make a movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Catrine. In 1989, after making his first film, Venus Peter, Young had hoped to work with McGrath on the film adaptation of The Silver Darlings but it did not work out. However, the huge success of The Inbetweeners has allowed Young to secure the film rights and he hopes to attract top Scots and Irish actors in the lead roles with a budget under £10 million.
“I would make a point of developing the epic scale,” he said. “I think of it like a Western. In a way it could be similar to There Will Be Blood, which was very strong in evoking another world where there is human greed and where life is cheap.”
While fans of the juvenile adventures of Will, Simon, Jay and Neil in The Inbetweeners, may scratch their head at what would attract the producer to such an old-fashioned tale, the news has been greeted warmly by fans of the novel.
Willy Maley, professor of literature at Glasgow University, said: “That’s brilliant news, especially in the run-up to the independence referendum, as we need to celebrate the extraordinary and unique literary art that Scotland has produced, especially in a time of cuts and closures. The Silver Darlings is a beautiful and moving book, a modern Scottish classic.
“This magnificent novel remains one of the most memorable evocations of the lasting importance of community, the inexorable pull of the sea, and the healing power of love. There are richly rendered scenes of immense tenderness in it that still make me cry.”
John Archer, who runs Hopscotch Films and is a former Scottish Screen chief executive, said: “It’s great to see someone who has had huge popular success go back to doing something much more risky. There has been a film of Silver Darlings before, in 1947, with notoriously dodgy Scottish accents – one of the actors just gives up part way through. I look forward to seeing the new one.”