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UK 2013
Directed by
Dexter Fletcher
100 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Sunshine On Leith

Synopsis: Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) are soldiers just returned home to Leith in Edinburgh from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Ally is keen to renew his relationship with Davy's sister, Liz (Freya Mavor), who hooks up her brother with Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). Meanwhile as Liz and Davy’s parents, Jean and Rab (Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullan) are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, a skeleton emerges from Rab's closet. It doesn't sing but the rest of the cast do.

This Scottish musical film arrives on our shores to accompaniment of loud huzzahs. It’s difficult to see why. That the story is banally formulaic is not necessarily a problem, indeed it’s quite common for a musical but that fact that the film looks and sounds like a transposition of some daggily likeable repertory production is. One can understand why it was a hit in its original stage production at the Dundee Repertory Theatre but actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher never really manages to give it a cinematic life of its own and what no doubt was charming on a live stage is far less so flickering on the big screen.

Sunshine On Leith opens with a group of Scots soldiers aboard a troop carrier, singing in multi-part harmony, I can’t recall about what but I presume something to do with the dangers of combat, missing the haggis back home and suchlike. It’s not a particularly well-executed number, what is supposed to be Afghanistan looking pretty much like the Scottish countryside, but one at least has hopes that the stylistic incongruity will bear fruit. No such luck as the film quickly cuts to 4 months later and Davy and Ally have been demobbed and are skipping down the streets of their hometown, Edinburgh, in what looks like a TV commercial for clever people who have bought the right brand of pet food, toothpaste, home insurance etc, etc or perhaps an MTV video from the 1980s.

That's no altogether surprising as the songs are by The Proclaimers, the Scots band founded by brothers Charlie and Craig Reid who had a big hit in the late 80s with "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles" (they also had a song "Sunshine on Leith”). It’s a catchily anthemic ditty that gets a workout as the obligatory feel-good closer to the film. There are a couple of other appealing numbers but they pretty much follow the same pop song format: a 4 chord, 4 beats-to-thje-bar verse with a sing-along chorus. These work best, unsurprisingly, in the scenes set in pubs with the cast getting merrily bevvied, they are less effective elsewhere, with one, set in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, really quite awful. Similar things can be said about the choreography and staging. This is after all what musicals are really about and the work here is far from inventive.

Somewhat oddly for a film that is being touted as a feel-good experience, the story is actually quite glum, the sort of dramatic material that Mike Leigh would have had a field day with. The three relationships depicted all devolve into one form of crisis or another and the de rigueur upbeat ending is far from being a convincing response to the problems uncovered. Perhaps this is as good as it gets if you’re Scots and the title is should be taken ironically. Probably not, but compounding the problem is that dramatically the material is not well handled, with the relationship between Davy and Yvonne in particular lacking credible motivation. The lead performances are all solid although it would have been advisable to switch roles between MacKay and Guthrie as the eye-catching Mavor is far too good-looking to be plausible squeeze for the, shall we say, homely Guthrie.

Sometimes charm can carry the day and It certainly seems that it has for a considerable numbers reviewers.  Go figure, if you must.




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