Scottish film and TV has emerged from the doldrums into a new boom era – Brian Ferguson

As the great and the good of Scottish film and television gathered at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh three years ago this week, a rare mood of celebration was in the air.
Suranne Jones leads the cast of new BBC drama Vigil (Picture: Nicky Hamilton)Suranne Jones leads the cast of new BBC drama Vigil (Picture: Nicky Hamilton)
Suranne Jones leads the cast of new BBC drama Vigil (Picture: Nicky Hamilton)

After protracted lobbying, wrangling, bickering and haranguing of the Scottish government, a bitterly disputed decision to ditch having a dedicated screen agency was finally reversed.

As Screen Scotland was officially launched, new figures revealed the value of the industry had soared to £95 million – a four-fold increase in a decade.

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The wait for a successor to Scottish Screen had been long and painful. Although its merger with the Scottish Arts Council officially took effect in 2010, its fate was sealed four years earlier.

Industry leaders looked on enviously as their counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland capitalised on studio facilities deployed for Doctor Who and Game of Thrones.

A number of high-profile films masked the industry’s doldrums, thanks to the presence of stars like Scarlett Johansson and Nicole Kidman in Scotland for the filming of Under the Skin and The Railway Man.

The real source of frustrations was a shortage of studio facilities and a lack of funding to help get home-grown productions off the ground.

The creation of a studio in Cumbernauld for the time-travel fantasy series Outlander in 2013 proved something of a double-edged sword.

Mirren Mack and Amy Manson star in the new BBC comedy Ladybaby (Picture: BBC)Mirren Mack and Amy Manson star in the new BBC comedy Ladybaby (Picture: BBC)
Mirren Mack and Amy Manson star in the new BBC comedy Ladybaby (Picture: BBC)

It undoubtedly brought renewed international attention on Scotland as a filming location, but with Outlander still being made it is unavailable for any other productions.

When Screen Scotland finally launched, with a ringfenced budget of £20 million, a key aim was to create new studio facilities.

Back in 2018, there was real momentum after the filming of Avengers: Infinity War, Outlaw King, Wild Rose, Mary Queen of Scots, The Cry and The Victim in Scotland.

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Then came news of another major production – Michael Caton-Jones’ adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos.

As Our Ladies finally arrives in cinemas following delays enforced by the pandemic, the Scottish industry is in the throes of something of a new boom period, after productions of all sizes were allowed to resume filming last summer.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival has seen launches for the feature The Road Dance and documentary Prince of Muck, while Gillies MacKinnon’s The Last Bus and Mark Cousins’ The Story of Looking are about to be released.

While other films like Steve Coogan’s The Lost King and James McAvoy’s My Son are still to come, TV and streaming services have become the industry’s new backbone.

Three new series made under lockdown restrictions are launching this week – maritime murder mystery Annika, Trident thriller Vigil and coming-of-age drama Float – while the BBC has just launched a pilot for Edinburgh-set comedy Ladybaby.

Others expected soon include a second series of black comedy Guilt, The Rig, a supernatural thriller made in the vast new studio complex in Leith, and Channel 4’s prison drama Screw, the first production made at the new studio at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall.

When you add the forthcoming filming of two new Nail Gaiman series – Good Omens and Anansi Boys – in Scotland, plus the tantalising prospect of Lord of the Rings shooting north of the border, it is no wonder it has become hard to keep up with everything goes on. Long may it continue.

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