Director: Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Peter Mullins, Jane Horrocks, George MacKay, Antonia Thomas, Kevin Guthrie, Freya Mavor, Jason Flemyng
Written by: (based on his stage play) Stephen Greenhorn
Running Time: 100 mins
Release date: 4th October 2013
Who would have thought that a musical based on the songs by Scottish band, The Proclaimers, and directed by the man who made the Brit Gangster drama Wild Bill and who played Spike in Press Gang, as well as starring one of Britain’s most prolific and intense actors, could be the feel-good film of the year? I am just as surprised but Sunshine On Leith will have you smiling from the moment it starts to the finale. If it doesn’t, you are a hard-hearted person indeed.
Davy and Ally are best friends who return to Scotland after a tour in Afghanistan. Coping with life as civilians, they have to deal with relationships (Ally is dating Davy’s sister,Liz, a nurse with big dreams while Davy is on the early days of being with fellow nurse and English girl, Yvonne); family strife (Davy’s father discovers a new person in his life after 25 years of marriage) while coping with the results of war.
It all sounds like an episode of a poor soap opera but director Dexter Fletcher sets his stool out pretty much after the credits start, when we follow the boys returning home, skipping down the street in full army get-up, singing “I’m On My Way”. From that moment on, we are in for a roller coaster of laughs, tears and genuine joyousness. Why would this be? The story is dealing with such a serious subject matter as war and how it can affect people, yet Stephen Greenhorn’s screenplay, based on his award-winning stage play, never dwells on the depressing too much. The musical numbers won’t allow you to.
I have never been a fan of The Proclaimers but like watching Shane Meadows’ excellent documentary Made Of Stone: The Stone Roses, I think Sunshine On Leith has changed my opinion. Their songs have an almost conversational feel about them and part of the joy is waiting to hear certain songs. One character looks at a website for America and so it seems almost certain that A Letter From America will pop up; someone plans to propose so here comes “Let’s Get Married” and before you know it, 500 Miles appears and all is good in the world.
It also looks glorious. The cinematography make Scotland look almost mystical and a sense of wonderment as the shots fly over this beautiful country.
The performances are also top-notch. The mainly young cast bring energy and exuberance to the film that is ultimately infectious. George MacKay, who seems to be everywhere at the moment, brings depth to his role of the troubled Davy, while Antonia Thomas is delightfully sweet as the girl he falls for. Nice to see Jane Horrocks back on musical top form as Davy’s mother, Jean. Performing a heart-breaking rendition of Sunshine On Leith, she is one of this country’s treasures and should be in far more movies that she is, hitting an almost pitch perfect Scottish accent.
The real treat is seeing Peter Mullins in lighter form. Usually in much darker roles, as Rab, the father with a hidden past, his singing might not be perfect, sounding more like Tom Waits but he brings depth and sympathy to his role, proving once more he is one of the more versatile actors around. There’s also a nice cameo from Fletcher’s buddy and all-round nice guy, Jason Flemyng.
Sunshine On Leith does have flaws and enough holes in the plot to drive a truck through. You can forgive all of these as the whole thing is just so life-affirming and like Mamma Mia, you can’t help but smile. Yes, I did shed a tear or two but by the end of the film, I was ready to skip down the street and sing at the top of my voice. For just pure entertainment, it hits the spot and I hope it does well at the box office, because in a time when we need entertainment, this is perfect.