The films that captured Edinburgh on the big screen

IT WAS famously described as resembling “a mad god’s dream” by the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, but few films have captured both the light and dark sides of Edinburgh as well as these, writes Chris McCall

The Scottish capital has produced a great many writers and inspired innumberable people to capture its striking skyline in words and pictures.

Compared to the likes of London or New York, films in which Edinburgh provides the central back drop are scarce.

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But when directors do shout “action” in the city’s cobbled wynds and closes, the city often steals the scene.


Perhaps the most visually satisfying cinematic view of Edinburgh is this animation masterpiece by Sylvain Chom, a French native who has called the capital home for several years. The original screenplay by Jacques Tati, which follows an illusionist forlornly trying to secure more bookings for his act, was set in Prague, but was switched by Chom to Edinburgh - another smallish European capital with an impressive castle. The renderings of the Crags, Old Town and Princes Street in the 1950s are a visual treat.


The opening scene when we see Renton, Sick Boy and Spud hightailing it down Princes Street following a shoplifting spree in the former John Menzies store is one of the most famous in British cinema. But in reality, the vast majority of this smash-hit adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name was filmed in Glasgow. The Volcano night club once stood in Partick and the exterior of the high school is actually Jordanhill, one of the country’s best performing secondaries.


The Disney telling of the story of Edinburgh’s most famous dog may be overly sweet for some tastes, but several scenes were filmed on location, with some particularly fine views of the castle. The film’s world premiere took place at the former Caley Cinema in Lothian Road and attracted international attention.


Danny Boyle’s dark thriller had its thunder stolen somewhat by the success of Trainspotting two years later, but this remains a visual delight for anyone who loves the glories of the New Town. The flat shared by Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox can be found in North West Circus Place. Interiors were filmed in a studio, in case you’re concerned about the contents of its attic.


To some residents it’s a month to dread, but to others its when the city opens itself to the world. The manic edge to Edinburgh’s festival season is well-captured on Annie Griffin’s 2005 drama, complete with students handing out flyers and unfunny comedians telling jokes in pubs.