Starring: George MacKay, Jane Horrocks & Peter Mullan
If watching Richard Curtis’ About Time was akin to being stabbed to death with a scone in The Metro’s mind, then Sunshine on Leith provides the perfect Scottish equivalent; being biffed over the head repeatedly with a haggis, perhaps, or tickled to death with a deep-fried Mars Bar. Either way, the latest movie-musical to hit British cinema screens soon beats you into acquiescing submission with its relentless cheeriness and positivity, exactly what you expect and want, of course, from a film based around The Proclaimers’ back catalogue. Following the success of his stage version of the story, writer Stephen Greenhorn (TV’s River City and Doctor Who) has adapted Sunshine on Leith for the big screen. Basically, main characters Davy (MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) arrive back home in Edinburgh and begin to decide what to do with their lives now they’ve put their army days behind them. Imagine this soundtracked to the best of the Craig twins’ oeuvre and you’ve got Sunshine on Leith in a nutshell. Or a scotch egg, perhaps.
We get to see a lot of Davy’s family, mainly because Ally is going out with Davy’s sister Liz (Freya Mavor), and Davy and Liz’s parents are played by Peter Mullan and a Scottish Jane Horrocks. At first, everything appears as happy-go-lucky and saccharine as swimming in a vat of Iron-Bru; Liz wants to set her brother up with friend Yvonne (an adept Antonia Thomas); Ally’s staying with his sister’s family, so we get to meet his cute nephew, and there’s plenty of playful pops at the English, especially when Davy discovers that Yvonne hails from south of the border. The jeopardy comes courtesy of hidden secrets and searches for fulfilment, with the film really concerning itself with the four youngsters’ quests to find out what they want from life. At moments like this, sometimes apart from the songs, sometimes accompanied by them, the narrative is taken to another level, and Sunshine on Leith is all the better for it.
All the cast give good performances; MacKay’s accent is particularly impressive, and the Londoner has form regarding film musicals too, having previously starred in 2011’s Hunky Dory. His chemistry with love-interest Yvonne and best pal Ally is great to watch. Out of all the characters, I enjoyed how Liz was portrayed the most; seemingly written to have a little more depth anyway, Mavor ensured this. It was refreshing to see a focus on mum and dad Jean and Rab’s relationship too, with Horrocks and Mullan convincing as world-weary middle-agers trying to ignore the fact that their sprogs are finally flying the nest, amongst other things.
The narrative is fairly predictable, and in terms of direction nothing amazing is achieved by actor-cum-director Fletcher in what is only his second feature film, after 2011’s Wild Bill. That said, I enjoyed the sexy wide shots of Edinburgh, and the perfectly tense opening together with the two pub scenes really did stand out for me. The film’s choreography is all sublime, but it was especially effective in the second, Hibs-infused pub scene; it was in such locations that the musical style of Sunshine on Leith truly worked, which is apt considering that The Proclaimers are exactly the sort of band you haver along to with mates down your local.
However, for a movie sold on its gritty, working-class Scottish charm, the film seemed far too glossy to me. I’ve only spent 4 hours in Auld Reekie (mostly at the Scottish Parliament; don’t ask), but I was expecting, perhaps erroneously, things to be a little more industrial and un-sanitised than they actually were. There wasn’t any explanation for why dad Rab doesn’t work, unless I missed it whilst trying to recognise the next song; I can holler along to I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) like the best of them, but I’m no expert on the Craig twins’ repertoire. Seeing the film may go some way to changing that though, as The Proclaimers’ fiercely un-cynical songs are just too infectious not to like. The film is obviously a celebration of the Auchtermuchty duo, and of a certain kind of Scottishness.
If you’re a sucker for sexy accents, many mentions of Hibs, gorgeous vistas of Edinburgh and cheesy singing and dancing, Sunshine on Leith is for you. It may not be the most spectacular or thought-provoking film you see this year, but then The Proclaimers aren’t the most spectacular or thought-provoking band; they’re the aural equivalent of a nice hug and a cup of tea, or a bit of a knees-up with your mates, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’d be like kicking a kilted Bambi not to love this film, which stays in your mind long after the final note has been sung. Talking of which, all the cast sang fine to me; there were no Pierce Brosnan’s this time around, and I say that as somebody who can’t hold a tune to save her life.
Sunshine on Leith provides a fantastically fun means of whiling away a couple of hours, even if you’re not a Proclaimers fan (and kudos to those who manage to spot Craig and Charlie). Just don’t be surprised if you’re still humming along, tapping your toes and smiling once it’s all over and done with.