EIFF 2009 - Peter McDougall and John Mackenzie
Pull no punches
Paul Dale celebrates the inclusion of the TV films of uncompromising filmmakers Peter McDougall and John Mackenzie in this year’s EIFF
Poor, white, Protestant and on the run from Greenock’s shipyards, Peter McDougall may not have possessed the background to execute the first two Reithian tenets of public service and probity, but he certainly knew about universality. The mythology goes that McDougall was discovered by Colin Chariots of Fire Welland when he was painting the latter’s house in the early-1970s. McDougall entertained Welland so much with his humorous stories about being forced to lead the orange march as a teenager that Welland urged him to write a television play. The BBC was looking for social realist screenplays and had started hot-housing Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Willy Russell.
McDougall went away and wrote a masterpiece. Just Another Saturday, the blackly comic drama of one young man’s journey from excitement to horror over the course of a day outwith the annual orange march in Glasgow proved too contentious for the BBC. Impressed, but fearful, they invited McDougall to write more.
The result was Just Your Luck, an equally contentious exploration of the sectarian divide in which a young Protestant girl finds herself pregnant by a Catholic boy. The BBC green-lit the project, signed up Mike Newell to direct, stood back and watched the fall out.
Millions watched the Play for Today and McDougall became a Scottish cause célèbre. Not used to seeing their nation painted in such bleak and unflinching detail, the local press had a field day, but no one doubted the talent behind the dialogue. McDougall had done what no one before him had: taken the language of the streets of Glasgow and put it on the page.
It was 1973 and one of the great partnerships of Scottish filmmaking was about to begin. Edinburgh-born John Mackenzie was looking for something gritty and Scottish. He began sniffing around McDougall’s Just Another Saturday. Skilled at getting things made on zero budgets, he got the production of the unchanged script completed in 1975.
Just Another Saturday was lauded internationally. It was a turning point in Scottish cinema history. In a few years Bill Forsyth would follow their lead and make This Sinking Feeling, kicking off a fifteen-year vogue for Scottish film that would end with Trainspotting. Mackenzie and McDougall would go on to make one more masterpiece – 1979’s razor gang tale Just a Boys’ Game and celebrated TV feature A Sense of Freedom about the salvation of Jimmy Boyle. Scotland and the dirty footprint of its sprawling west coast city breathe through all these works. I urge you to visit these gallows of mirth.
Just a Boy’s Game, Filmhouse, Thu 18 Jun, 3pm. Just Another Saturday and The Elephant’s Graveyard, Fri 19 Jun, 3.45pm. A Sense of Freedom, Sat 20 Jun, 4.15pm. All Filmhouse, £6.50 (£5.50). Ticket offers available.