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Film review: Sunshine On Leith

Peter Mullan in Sunshine On Leith

Peter Mullan in Sunshine On Leith

IF NOTHING else, we should be grateful to Dexter Fletcher for revealing to us what gravel pits would sound like if they could sing.

Sunshine On Leith (PG)

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Running time: 100 minutes

Star rating; * * *

That insight is provided during a celebration scene in Sunshine On Leith where a ceilidh is in full birl, and the invaluable Peter Mullan steps up to serenade his wife (Jane Horrocks) with the Proclaimers’ Oh Jean.

It’s easy to mock the tone-afflicted: in my family, the only singer was the sewing machine, and although Mullan may not have the most soulful voice in the cast, he and Horrocks give the movie a soul it might otherwise lack. When their 25-year marriage is under threat, it generates a shockwave akin to a Proclaimer adopting contact lenses, and Horrocks’ version of Sunshine On Leith has a sweet vulnerability not often heard on the Hibs’ terraces.

In other places, writer Stephen Greenhorn’s bid to lasso Proclaimers’ hits into a jukebox musical betrays its stagey origins. You also can’t help but register that the Proclaimers write much sharper lyrics than Greenhorn’s dialogue. After some duff exchange about oysters tasting like snot in a shell, it’s a relief to the ears when someone cranks up “This is the story of my first teacher/Shetland made her jumpers and the devil made her features”.

To be fair, it’s a tough job tethering any story to a couple of 1980s albums, but amongst the younger characters there’s an inescapable sense of bulking out the story, especially the character who announces her desire to emigrate so that everyone else will demand a letter from America, when e-mail and texts seem more likely. And while we’re girning, much of the dancing is oddly and geriatrically old-fashioned, while the singing ranges from pleasant to pleasantly forgettable.

And yet this genial am-dram production has moments that make the heart fly. The pub singalongs work best, particularly a show-stopping Let’s Get Married, staged with hardly a woman in sight, in a treatment that is rousing and witty, while amongst the younger leads I enjoyed Kevin Guthrie’s pursuit of Freya Mavor, incarnated up a Leith close as a puppyish pursuit of a particularly delicious bone, while George MacKay is engaging as squaddie Davy, trying to resettle into civilian life – despite some ridiculously contrived arguments arranged between him and his nurse girlfriend Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). It’s hard to believe any couple would fall out over a woman proposing a visit to England, unless that woman was Mrs William Wallace.

Fletcher himself showboats a small cameo as a farting drunk, a rather neat encapsulation of his energy at the expense of tone. As a director, he has difficulty distinguishing between comedy and clowning, the heartfelt and the sloppily sentimental, the genuine and the ingratiating.

As a night out, Sunshine On Leith has enthusiasm by the bucket, and emotional roughness that is vastly preferable to the gloss of Mamma Mia – just as Peter Mullan’s cheesegrater vocals are superior to Pierce Brosnan singing like an angry donkey. It’s striking that Mullan gets offered hard men, psychos and addicts a lot more often than he tackles romantically distraught characters. Someone should pass him a remake of The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

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