DCSIMG

Film review: Sunshine on Leith (PG)

Sunshine on Leith. Picture: Contributed

Sunshine on Leith. Picture: Contributed

  • by ALISTAIR HARKNESS
 

Dexter Fletcher’s big-screen version of the Proclaimers musical taps into the simple joy of a story told through song

Sunshine on Leith (PG)

Directed by: Dexter Fletcher

Starring: Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks, George MacKay, Antonia Thomas, Kevin Guthrie, Freya Mavor

Star rating: * * *

With the rise of the so-called jukebox movie musical, there seems to be a higher premium placed on effort and enthusiasm these days than genuine talent, ensuring that a format that once depended on star performers dazzling audiences with astonishing routines has been reduced to the cinematic equivalent of an end-of-term school show filled with impossible-to-embarrass movie stars hoofing and hollering along to pre-existing pop hits.

If the existence of tone-deaf and visually abhorrent travesties such as Mamma Mia! and Rock of Ages suggests filmmakers aren’t interested in staging such amateur dramatics with any craft, though, there are moments in actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher’s ebullient big-screen version of the Proclaimers musical Sunshine on Leith that prove the contrary.

Romanticised shots of Edinburgh that sweep over Arthur’s Seat, frame the castle against postcard pretty sunsets, and bathe the streets of Leith in a hazy nostalgic glow may give the impression of a film that has been made with one eye on boosting Scottish tourism, but they also help reinforce something that Fletcher’s film is alive to more than most movies of this ilk: the way pop music can lift people out of the drudgery of their everyday existence.

In Sunshine on Leith, whenever pub gatherings, anniversary celebrations, tearful farewells or conversations/flirtations/arguments lead to characters breaking into the Proclaimers’ back catalogue, the film seems to understand the simple joy to be had in telling a story through music – even if the songs’ original lyrics are often used with a literalness that’s sometimes a little clumsy.

The latter is the curse of having a script that makes a laughably contrived, corny and occasionally cringe-worthy attempt to wrangle Craig and Charlie Reid’s songs into a workable narrative. Having not seen the original Dundee Rep production, I can’t comment on how writer Stephen Greenhorn’s attempt to create a story to fit the songs worked in a live setting, but there’s a definite staginess to the film version that initially makes it difficult to buy into.

The early plot-establishing scenes have an especially awkward, knuckle-gnawing intensity as we’re introduced to best friends Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) as they return from active service in Afghanistan to a civilian life in an Edinburgh short on opportunities. Having witnessed one friend (played by Paul Brannigan) being crippled in action, their futures are much on their minds, with the dreamier Davy unimpressed by the prospect of a career in a call centre and the unimaginative Ally a little too focused on settling down with Davy’s sister Liz (Freya Mavor) to realise that all she wants to do is see the world – or at least Miami (well, they had to squeeze in Letter from America somehow).

The film settles down, however, whenever the story focuses on Davy and Liz’s parents. Rab (Peter Mullan) and the helpfully-named-for-the-song Jean (Jane Horrocks) are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, but their surface happiness is also about to be tested by revelations from Rab’s past. None of these is particularly earth-shattering, but both Mullan and Horrocks imbue them with so much gravitas and soulfulness that the film suddenly feels a bit more substantial whenever they’re in front of the camera.

Mullan in particular manages to deliver even the cheesiest lines in a way that makes it seem as if raw emotion is bleeding through the screen and his gravelly singing voice is surprisingly tender. What’s really remarkable about Mullan, however, is the naturalism he brings to his big solo number. Though it would be easy to mock his musical abilities, he slips into song with such casual grace and authority that the whole scene momentarily transforms Sunshine on Leith into a different, better film, one in which music and drama are suddenly fused together into a cohesive whole rather than left to feel like awkward bedfellows. As I wrote in my review of the film after the premiere: he could have been this film’s Pierce Brosnan; instead he’s its Meryl Streep.

It’s a shame, then, that Fletcher can’t sustain that trick throughout, although at least he knows that the film’s strengths lie in the musical numbers and proceeds to attack these with an exuberance easy to get swept up in. It helps that his cast are at least decent singers (no longer a given in movie musicals). MacKay, Guthrie and Mavor acquit themselves well, though it’s Antonia Thomas, cast as Davy’s love interest Yvonne, who has the best voice and emerges as the strongest performer.

Naturally, then, it’s her and MacKay who get to lead us into the show-stopping finale, a chaotically choreographed flash mob rendition of I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). The triumph of the film is that it doesn’t make you want to be that distance away from it.

OTHER RELEASES

How I Live Now (18)

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland, Harley Bird, Anna Chancellor

Star rating; * * *

At times, Kevin Macdonald imbues this adaptation of Meg Roskoff’s award-winning, end-of-the-world -themed young adult novel with such bleakness that it frequently seems more akin to a teen take on Children of Men or Threads than another Hunger Games clone. That’s mostly a good thing, not least because it also helps it transcend the Enid Blyton-esque overtones of a set-up that sees a sullen New York teen called Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) suddenly forced to endure Famous Five-style adventures with her excessively jolly English cousins after arriving in the UK to escape some unspecified domestic strife back in the US.

Despite fringe reports of civil unrest putting the country on high alert, Daisy’s reluctance to accept the warm embrace of her extended – if precocious – family only recedes when she claps eyes on her swoon-worthy elder cousin, Edmond (George MacKay, in his second major release this week). Indeed, so strong is the bond they form that even a nuclear bomb going off in nearby London can’t quite silence the icky “but they’re related” alarm bells from ringing, especially as they vow to find each after getting separated when terrorists take over the country.

What follows, though, is a strange, apocalyptic teen fantasy which, despite several flaws, works to an extent thanks to the way Macdonald presents everything from the narrow, naturally melodramatic perspective of its young protagonists.

For Those in Peril (15)

Starring: George MacKay, Kate Dickie, Nichola Burley, Michael Smiley

Star rating: * * * *

Having won the 2011 BAFTA for his short film, Until The River Runs Red, Scottish director Paul Wright makes a confident move into features, taking a difficult subject matter – post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt – and shaping it into an experimental, poetic and moving exploration of grief and the toll it can take.

It’s the story of Aaron (George MacKay, again), a misfit in a small Scottish fishing community who has become the focal point for the collective anguish of the town after surviving a tragedy at sea that has cost five local fishermen – among them Aaron’s beloved older brother, Michael – their lives. Numbed by the loss, Aaron begins retreating into a dark, reality-blurring fantasy based on an old folk tale his mother used to tell him as a child. Wright depicts this subjectively by creating visual and audio collages to signify Aaron’s disintegrating mental state, but he also keeps one foot in the real world by showing the impact Aaron’s behaviour has on his quietly despairing mother, Cathy (Kate Dickie). Dickie and MacKay do strong work in difficult roles here, allowing Wright to build to a intriguingly allegorical finale that marks him out as a talent to watch.

Thanks for Sharing (15)

Directed by: Stuart Blumberg

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad

Star rating: * * *

Sandwiched between Shame and the forthcoming Don Jon, this sex

addiction comedy/drama attempts to take the still-impossible-to-romanticise disease mainstream by using it as the common compulsion binding together a group of New York professionals working through their emotional issues. Chief among these is Mark Ruffalo, as a recovering sex addict just starting to trust himself to get involved with women again after a five-year bout of abstinence. He falls for Gwyneth Paltrow’s health nut, but stops himself coming clean about his past when she announces she doesn’t date addicts.

His story intersects with that of his mentor (Tim Robbins), whose junkie son’s return after a spell in rehab is forcing him to confront aspects of his own under-control proclivities he’d rather not face. Then there’s Josh Gad’s mother-dominated doctor. He’s new to the 12-step programme and even though his behaviour (which includes taking up-skirt photos of his colleagues) is threatening his career, he’s not as committed to recovery as Ruffalo – charged with being his sponsor – would like. Writer/director Stuart Blumberg synchs up these storylines well, resulting in few surprises but enough going on to hold the interest.

How I Live Now (18)

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland, Harley Bird, Anna Chancellor

HHH

At times, Kevin Macdonald imbues

this adaptation of Meg Roskoff’s award-winning, end-of-the-world -themed young adult novel with such bleakness that it frequently seems more akin to a teen take on Children of Men or Threads than another Hunger Games clone. That’s mostly a good thing, not least because it also helps it transcend the Enid Blyton-esque overtones of a set-up that sees a sullen New York teen called Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) suddenly forced to endure Famous Five-style adventures with her excessively jolly English cousins after arriving in the UK to escape some unspecified domestic strife back in the US.

Despite fringe reports of civil unrest putting the country on high alert, Daisy’s reluctance to accept the warm embrace of her extended – if precocious – family only recedes when she claps eyes on her swoon-worthy elder cousin, Edmond (George MacKay, in his second major release this week). Indeed, so strong is the bond they form that even a nuclear bomb going off in nearby London can’t quite silence the icky “but they’re related” alarm bells from ringing, especially as they vow to find each after getting separated when terrorists take over the country.

What follows, though, is a strange, apocalyptic teen fantasy which, despite several flaws, works to an extent thanks to the way Macdonald presents everything from the narrow, naturally melodramatic perspective of its young protagonists.

For Those in Peril (15)

Starring: George MacKay, Kate Dickie, Nichola Burley, Michael Smiley

HHHH

Having won the 2011 BAFTA for his short film, Until The River Runs Red, Scottish director Paul Wright makes a confident move into features, taking a difficult subject matter – post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt – and shaping it into an experimental, poetic and moving exploration of grief and the toll it can take.

It’s the story of Aaron (George MacKay, again), a misfit in a small Scottish fishing community who has become the focal point for the collective anguish of the town after surviving a tragedy at sea that has cost five local fishermen – among them Aaron’s beloved older brother, Michael – their lives. Numbed by the loss, Aaron begins retreating into a dark, reality-blurring fantasy based on an old folk tale his mother used to tell him as a child. Wright depicts this subjectively by creating visual and audio collages to signify Aaron’s disintegrating mental state, but he also keeps one foot in the real world by showing the impact Aaron’s behaviour has on his quietly despairing mother, Cathy (Kate Dickie). Dickie and MacKay do strong work in difficult roles here, allowing Wright to build to a intriguingly allegorical finale that marks him out as a talent to watch.

Thanks for Sharing (15)

Directed by: Stuart Blumberg

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad

HHH

Sandwiched between Shame and the forthcoming Don Jon, this sex

addiction comedy/drama attempts to take the still-impossible-to-romanticise disease mainstream by using it as the common compulsion binding together a group of New York professionals working through their emotional issues. Chief among these is Mark Ruffalo, as a recovering sex addict just starting to trust himself to get involved with women again after a five-year bout of abstinence. He falls for Gwyneth Paltrow’s health nut, but stops himself coming clean about his past when she announces she doesn’t date addicts.

His story intersects with that of his mentor (Tim Robbins), whose junkie son’s return after a spell in rehab is forcing him to confront aspects of his own under-control proclivities he’d rather not face. Then there’s Josh Gad’s mother-dominated doctor. He’s new to the 12-step programme and even though his behaviour (which includes taking up-skirt photos of his colleagues) is threatening his career, he’s not as committed to recovery as Ruffalo – charged with being his sponsor – would like. Writer/director Stuart Blumberg synchs up these storylines well, resulting in few surprises but enough going on to hold the interest.

The Crash Reel (12A)

Directed by: Lucy Walker

Star rating: * * * *

Now that everybody films everything, documentary-makers have a wealth of material from which to draw when happening upon a subject. That’s the case with The Crash Reel. In detailing the story of Kevin Pearce, a talented American snowboarder whose very real hopes of winning Winter Olympic gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games were destroyed after suffering a traumatic brain injury during a training accident, director Lucy Walker comprehensively reconstructs his life from cradle to coma with extraordinary intimacy.

Indeed with the crash and its immediate aftermath captured matter-of-factly on film by passers-by, she’s managed to create something that’s tantamount to a new kind of verité filmmaking, one that builds on the richness that Senna achieved with its remarkable in-the-moment use of archival footage, yet moves forward into unchartered territory thanks to Walker picking up the story for herself.

More than Honey (12A)

Directed by: Markus Imhoof

Star rating: * * *

The industrial-sized operation that professional beekeepers now have to mount to ensure bees do the job that nature intended is just one of the fascinating and frightening insights on

offer in Swiss filmmaker Markus Imhoof’s documentary exploring the diminishing population of honey bees around the world. Imhoof grew up in a family of beekeepers and uses this personal connection to guide us – via the voice of John Hurt – through his quest to discover why bees are dying out. His journey takes him from Switzerland to the United States and even to China (where migrant workers now literally do the job of worker bees by pollinating flowers by hand).

Along the way he outlines the complex ways bees interact with and are necessary for the survival of the world at large. More than Honey isn’t a shock-doc, though. There may be shots of beekeepers scraping thousands of dead bees from their colonies and talking at length about the damage wrought by external factors such as pesticides, but the film is also a celebration of the industriousness of these insects – something Imhoof underscores with some staggering footage that puts us in their swarming midst.

 

Comments

 
 

Back to the top of the page

 

EDINBURGH
FESTIVALS
2014

#WOWFEST

In partnership with

Complete coverage of the festivals. Guides. Reviews. Listings. Offers

Let's Go!

No Thanks