Profile: Scott Graham, director of Shell

Profile: Scott Graham, director of Shell

Graham's debut is an impressive and atmospheric 'road side movie' starring Chloe Pirrie

Aberdeen, Scotland, 1974

Glasgow-based filmmaker Scott Graham was inspired by American films of the 1970s for his melancholic first feature. Shell is a portrait of a girl living in a remote petrol station in the north of Scotland, whose life is marked by fleeting visits from travellers who stop by. Sensitively shot by cinematographer Yoliswa Gärtig, Graham’s impressive and atmospheric debut is adapted from a short film he made in 2007. It stars newcomer Chloe Pirrie in the lead role and memorable cameos from Tam Dean Burn, Kate Dickie and Michael Smiley. It won the Best Film Award at Turin Film Festival.

On his decision to re-make his short film
‘I think what I wanted to return to was that sense of place, the isolation and beauty of the Highlands and about someone tied to a place like that. I was driving between Fraserburgh where I was brought up, and Glasgow where I was living, and you pass places like that. And because you’re driving you’ve got time to think what people’s lives would be like if they lived there all year around. So it started as a road movie then it became a road side movie, about a place that you would stop at.’

On the inspiration of the film
‘I don’t know if you’ve seen the film Vanishing Point but there’s a great scene where he stops for petrol then he drives away and the camera holds on this character, who doesn’t say anything - the girl that comes out and fills up with petrol - just holds on her for a moment. And you never see her again, but just the look on her face when he’s driving off really stayed with me.’

On the ambiguous relationship between the two main characters
‘I wanted people to see a man and a woman living together and sort of know something is about, before they knew what the nature of their relationship was. Because that sort of is the nature of their relationship, they seem to exist as cohabitants and as father and daughter, and almost as lovers.’

On whether incest is the main theme of the film
‘I don’t mind it being described in that way but it’s not what I sat down to write. I think my intention is to connect with an audience, and to have them connect with characters that are doing things that are perhaps difficult to understand. It should provide some kind of comfort, rather than shocking people, or making people look away, or pass judgement. That was definitely not my intention.’

Shell is on limited release from Fri 15 Mar.

JDIFF 2013 | Shell Trailer


  • 3 stars
  • 2012
  • UK
  • 1h 31min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Scott Graham
  • Written by: Scott Graham
  • Cast: Chloe Pirrie, Tam Dean Burn, Morven Christie
  • UK release: 15 March 2013

Shell (Pirrie) is a lonely teenager manning her father's isolated garage in the Highlands. The film was expanded from a short and it feels like it, with occasional forced symbolism and gloomy arthouse clichés instead of deeply-felt drama. But Graham has a definite way with actors, and it's eloquent and atmospheric.