Welsh's four women and a wedding

IT IS a scene that could only have come from the pen of Edinburgh's most controversial writer.

In the dining room of his Leith home, a young professional bemoans the kind of grimy Scottish fiction that portrays Scotland as a cesspit, before a startled guest returns from the toilet and exclaims: "There's a woman wearing a bridal gown smoking drugs in your hall."

Welcome back, Irvine Welsh.

More than ten years after Trainspotting's bleak vision of Edinburgh's heroin scene reached the silver screen, the writer yesterday unveiled his latest take on a place he calls "the greatest city in the world".

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Wedding Belles, a one-off TV film to screen on Channel 4 later this month, has been dubbed Trainspotting for women.

Co-written with Welsh's frequent collaborator, Dean Cavanagh, it recounts the build-up to Leith's "wedding of the year", centred on four women living on the edge in a world of drink, drugs and deceitful men.

"I don't think it's anything to do with Trainspotting," said Welsh, when asked the obvious question yesterday, although the two films have one connection in actress Shirley Henderson.

Welsh called it his first attempt to put working-class women at the centre of his fiction.

Wedding Belles is a comedy that could not be much blacker. Bestiality, incest, necrophilia, drugs, drink, philandering priests and rampant old men all feature.

Michelle Gomez stars as the bride-to-be trying to hold on to her sanity and her bridesmaids in the countdown to her nuptials.

Henderson, along with other leading Scottish actors Shauna MacDonald and Kathleen McDermott, play her friends, whose lives are in various states of disrepair.

Wedding Belles was inspired by the Edinburgh film writer and producer Mark Cousins while working with Welsh on several film projects.

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He noticed that films with "wedding" in the title, from Four Weddings and a Funeral to The Wedding Singer, tended to do well at the box office.

Wedding Belles is a wedding film with a difference, however. The actresses identified their favourite scenes yesterday, including the moment when Henderson's character tries snuff, with disastrous effects, in the Leith Dockers' Club.

Another was when a priest is spanked with a table-tennis bat by McDermott's character, dressed as a nun.

Welsh, now based in Ireland, said he returned to Edinburgh and Leith because it still inspired and interested him.

Asked if the film bore any relation to the real place, the writer said: "It's a bogus question. It's fiction and you make it up and that's the whole point of it. It resonates in so far as people can relate to it. Edinburgh is a very diverse city."

Asked if Leith had changed since Trainspotting days, he said: "There's elements of gentrification and there's elements of traditional Leith as well."

The film won a warm welcome at its preview screening in Edinburgh.

The Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Lesley Hinds, said: "I really enjoyed it. It should be a series. It was really strong, funny, but actually quite realistic.

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"There's a lot you can recognise to a women's night out. There is diversity; that's what Edinburgh's like.

"It was great to have strong women characters, which is interesting coming from Irvine. That's been a criticism before."

Welsh said: "I've always liked the women characters I've written, but they have never had the air time, because I have been more concerned with male characters."

Welsh is continuing to write fiction, but also moving strongly into film. His latest book, a collection of short stories called If You Like School, You Will Like Work, reflects his international lifestyle, with stories set in Fife, Chicago, the Nevada and Arizona deserts and the Canary Islands.

He has just directed one short film and is set to direct a feature film, based on the Alan Warner novel The Man who Walks.

A film script he has written, The Meat Trade, is also on line to be made with Colin Firth and Robert Carlyle.

"The thing is, just writing a book, you can play God, the finished product is yours. The problem is you spend a lot of time with people that don't actually exist," Welsh said.

"If you are working in film, it's more co-operative. There's lots of other people putting in, actors, editors, Channel 4."

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• WEDDING Belles is one of the slickest, funniest, and well-shot Scottish films I've seen. Director Philip John, armed with the script from Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh, has delivered a film that never falls flat for a second, and outdoes many festival offerings.

You could question Wedding Belles' taste, or its purpose, as the writers throw every modern ill at their characters, and make fun of most of them. But it is billed as an "entertaining black comedy" and perhaps that is enough. The plot twists and the knee-jerk jokes come thick and fast and only a few are predictable.

The cinematography, picking out the wet black-and-white quality of Edinburgh's streets, is stunning.

The acting is equally extraordinary. Michelle Gomez plays the bride-to-be and matriarch so strongly that we never realise she has anchored the film as well as keeping her bridesmaids from careering off the rails. She is trying so hard to build a middle-class life while we wonder, if she does not, what her perfect pilot and husband-to-be is doing on his laptop.

Shauna Macdonald, playing the tragic ex-model and crack addict Rhona, is a ghostly and enticing presence. Shirley Henderson delivers a formidable performance as the film's most memorably pathetic character. Kathleen McDermott is excellent as the outwardly healthy old folks' home nurse with several rude secrets of her own.

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