Autumn film preview 2013: Filth, Sunshine on Leith and For Those in Peril
The three highly anticipated Scottish films suggest something of a national filmmaking resurgence
Autumn 2013 is shaping up to be another critical juncture in the story of Scottish filmmaking. Like the mythical Brigadoon, the notion of a national film and television studio has made its traditional appearance from behind a billowing mist of caution and trepidation. If we built it, would more productions come to Scotland? The latest attempt to make the dream a reality has the backing of some influential figures, including Scots producer Iain Smith, chairman of the British Film Commission.
Recent productions using Scotland as a principal location are heading to the autumn film festival circuit. The long-awaited version of Michel Faber’s disturbing science-fiction novel Under The Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson, will appear at Venice and Toronto while the screen adaptation of the late Eric Lomax’s poignant memoirs, The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, is heading for Toronto and San Sebastian.
A sprinkling of movie star glamour never did any harm to the aspirations of an industry. The sight of Brad Pitt in Glasgow or Scarlett Johansson and Daniel Craig in the Highlands has guaranteed front page news. The possibility of JJ Abrams shooting part of the next Star Wars film in Scotland will further underline the country as an incredibly versatile location that can attract the finest talent in the world. Whether it has any lasting benefit on the development of a national film industry is a different matter. That is why the fate of three very different local productions is a much more important indicator of the state of Scottish filmmaking.
This autumn audiences will have the chance to see Paul Wright’s poetic first feature For Those In Peril, Jon S Baird’s rumbustious adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel Filth and Dexter Fletcher’s tender-hearted screen version of The Proclaimers musical Sunshine On Leith. Scottish cinema seemed to have reached something of a creative impasse, giving the impression that all the nation had to offer was fifty shades of miserablism. These three films all hark back to established currents within Scottish filmmaking but also suggest healthy signs of renewal.
Filmed around Gourdon in Aberdeenshire, For Those In Peril tells of the lone survivor of a tragedy at sea that has claimed the lives of five other men. Aaron, played by George Mackay, is burdened by guilt and is increasingly seen as an outcast in a close-knit coastal community ravaged by grief. The grim social realist subject matter is steered towards magic realism by Paul Wright’s sense of landscape, location and memories, captured through a variety of different film stocks. There is an echo of Margaret Tait in his film and a sense of a work made without compromise or consideration for the demands of the marketplace.
Filth harks back to another critical moment in Scottish film when Trainspotting was unleashed, displaying a ferocious energy and dynamism that felt like a kick in the pants. Filth is easily the best adaptation of Welsh’s work we have seen since then, faithfully capturing his sense of the grotesque in a savage satirical comedy pitched somewhere between Federico Fellini and Abel Ferrara. James McAvoy gives a bravura performance as Bruce Robertson, a corrupt, manipulative Edinburgh policeman gleefully indulging all his worst appetites for drugs, sex, violence, racism and ruining the lives of everyone who has the misfortune to cross his path.
If Filth offers a hallucinatory wallow in the dregs of the Scottish psyche, then Sunshine On Leith is its big-hearted counterpoint. Almost 40 years after his appearance in Bugsy Malone, actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher was the inspired choice to direct the film version of the stage hit woven around the music of The Proclaimers. George Mackay and Kevin Guthrie play the homecoming survivors of the Afghanistan conflict struggling to re-adjust to civilian life when they return to Edinburgh. Early industry screenings have had hardened critics sobbing in the aisles.
Given the populist aspirations of Sunshine On Leith and the proven track record of its distributor, Entertainment, it could become the most successful Scottish film of recent years. All three titles bring cause for celebration in the promise of an authentic new voice in Scottish features (Paul Wright), the arrival of thrilling new acting talents like George Mackay and Freya Mavor, the boldness of a major Scottish star returning home to stretch his talent and the successful realisation of that rarest of creatures – a Scottish musical. When you consider that 2013 has also brought such outstanding documentaries as We Are Northern Lights, Kiss The Water and The Devil’s Plantation, there is clearly a resurgent diversity in Scottish film that we should all be celebrating.
Filth is released on Fri 27 Sep; Sunshine on Leith and For Those in Peril are released on Fri 4 Oct.