Top 10 Scottish films

Burns Night got Cameron thinking: what are the finest truly Scottish films out there? Here's his top 10...

To coincide with Burns Night (with the poet celebrating 250 years of ‘success’ recently) my attention turned to the rarity of the ‘Scottish’ film. And more specifically, good ones. Sure there’s plenty of John Hannah movies out there (sadly) but I wanted to concentrate on the truly Scottish – where the primary talent (writers, directors, etc) and production is based in Scotland. So there’s no Braveheart, no Wicker Man and definitely no Loch Ness!

10. Soft Top, Hard Shoulder (1993) Written by lead actor Peter Capaldi (The Thick Of It), this gentle comedy comes from the makers of Shooting Fish and Waking Ned (before they made them, of course) and seems to have been overlooked by the viewing public. Full of cracking performances from Richard Wilson (One Foot In The Grave) and Frances Barber (Still Crazy), with Jeremy Northam (Cypher) popping up too, this road movie may be sentimental in the extreme but it compensates for all the crime and unpleasantness you’ll see elsewhere in this list.

9. Young Adam (2003) And this is where the unpleasantness and crime start. Probably most notable for the last time Ewan McGregor did some ‘proper’ acting, Young Adam doesn’t have much of a plot but its strengths lie in the interpersonal relationships that lie therein. The rest of the cast are terrific with Scots stalwart Peter Mullan (My Name Is Joe), Emily Mortimer (The Pink Panther, *coughs*) and the white delight of Oscar winner, Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton). I will add this proviso: if you’re not a fan of sex scenes stay away as the flick has more than one knicker-messing moment.

8. Sweet Sixteen (2002) Again, the words ‘crime’ and ‘unpleasant’ spring forth in Ken Loach’s gritty (what, Ken Loach, gritty? No!) coming of age film starring newcomer Martin Compston. Many critics have noted the parallels with Di Sica’s The Bicycle Thief and it’s not hard to see why with notions of the broken family and shattered dreams set against the backdrop of the modern yet dilapidated town. Sadly, this movie is slightly ruined by us viewers up North as most of the cast have gone on to star in the arse-achingly painful soap River City – Glasgow’s answer to EastEnders (as if this were needed).

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7. Comfort & Joy (1984) Bill Forsyth doesn’t quite hit the highs of his other work (I won’t name them, it’ll spoil the ‘surprise’) but this comedic take on the Glasgow ‘Ice Cream Wars’ (go on, look that up!) is heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once. Bill Paterson (recently seen in BBC1’s Little Dorrit) puts in an incredibly touching performance as radio DJ Alan “Dicky” Bird who is trying to come to terms with losing his girlfriend (imagining her everywhere he goes and every time he falls asleep). But it’s not all doom and gloom as we are presented with lots of visual gags (a typical trait of the director – more of that to come) and the hilarious jingles that Paterson records. Oh, and it’s got Clare Grogan (Red Dwarf) in it and the ice cream she sells is almost as yummy she is.

6. Aberdeen (2000) OK so this one is the exception to the ‘rules’ I concocted, being directed by Norway’s answer to Ridley Scott, Hans Petter Moland. Although called Aberdeen, the filming of this road movie never makes it to the Granite City with shooting in Glasgow representing various cities within the UK. It’s a gritty tale involving drug addiction and alcohol abuse (what? In a Scottish film? Never!) and features excellent performances from Stellan “Mamma Mia” Skarsgård and Lena Headey from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Look out for the dubious inclusion of the infamous Glasgow venue the Barrowlands (where the facade is clearly visible) doubling for a club somewhere in England.

5. Local Hero (1983) It’s that man, Bill Forsyth again! Set in the beautiful (and real) village of Pennan, Local Hero did for the old red telephone box what Doctor Who did for the old blue Police Box and showed us all how those pesky Yanks and their oily money grabbing ways couldn’t keep us down – much more effectively than Mel Gibson could ever dream of. Like most of Forsyth’s work, it’s sentimental as heck but that is no bad thing and the cast, featuring Burt Lancaster, Denis “Wedge from Star Wars” Lawson and Peter Capaldi are an absolute delight. Sit back, press play, dream on.

4. Red Road (2006) And we’re back to crime and nastiness again. This project was inspired by Lars von Trier and his ‘Advance Party’ scenario (the same actors playing the same characters in different films authored by different directors) and we all remember how successful his Dogme 95 manifesto was. *tumbleweed flies by*

Anyway, despite my initial misgivings, this is a real treat, looking at the modern city and relationships whilst also studying revenge in a Kill Bill-esque fashion. The central performance (in a largely unknown cast) from Kate Dickie is astounding and you’ll be glued to this tale to see how it pans out right to the denouement. I would say this is the best contemporary Scottish film if it wasn’t for….

3. Hallam Foe (2007) “It’s Batman meets Oedipus,” wrote one reviewer (well, I said it anyway) of this disturbing coming of age tale starring Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) who affects an excellent Scottish accent. As does one time David Tennant partner, Sophia Myles (Thunderbirds,) who displays behaviour that might prove too much for those with an erotic disposition. It’s superbly shot on the streets (and skyline) of Edinburgh and perfectly details young love and the desperation that it entails. Definitely a modern classic and certainly the best British film in a long time.

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2. Whisky Galore! (1949) Again, another slightly debatable entry due to being directed by an American and written by an English-born man (though he lived in Scotland for much of his life), it would be churlish to deny the charm and style of this post-war Ealingcomedy. The film, based on a true story, came but a matter of years after the actual event took place when 50,000 cases of whisky were stranded after the ship carrying them sank; much to the delight of the local inhabitants. I will point out that we’re not all boozehounds up here, despite how many films in this list seem to make out we are! Interestingly, and I use the word quite wrongly, Whisky was released in the US under the title, Tight Little Island.

1. Gregory’s Girl (1981) To be frank, this could top a list of my favourite films ever (regardless of country) depending on my mood. No other film has captured, before or since, that summer of youth before responsibility kicks in. That summer when getting girls (or boys) becomes a reality and you have to deal with it quick smart. That summer before you leave your family and friends behind.

John Gordon Sinclair oozes teenage anxiety and charm in equal abundance, creating a new catch phrase every time he opens his gob – “Bella Bella!” and “I like to do something special on a Saturday night,” for example.

The rest of the cast are just as delightful with Clare Grogan creating a very special place in my heart (and that of every other thirty/forty something Scottish bloke) and quickly became the woman of my dreams. Now she turns up on Loose Women… moving on. Forsyth’s writing is sublime and peppers the film with visual gags (the penguin in the school) and even more catch phrases for the rest of the cast (in my ‘crew’ the phrase “take her up the country park” meant something quite different).

He also manages the Herculean task of making Cumbernauld, where Gregory’s Girl was shot, seem like the most romantic place in the world, where girls can play football, possibilities seem boundless and where time is counted out in elephants. *wipes tear*

Honourable mentions:

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Restless Natives (1985) Orphans (1997) Morvern Callar (2002) Small Faces (1996) My Name Is Joe (1998) Ratcatcher (1999) Shallow Grave (1995) Carla’s Song (1996) Trainspotting (1996)

29 January 2009