Big smiles are guaranteed for Dexter Fletcher's charming musical monument to The Proclaimers.
Anyone who’s celebrated New Year’s Eve in Scotland will tell you that The Proclaimers’ song ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’ has had all romantic sentiment stamped out of it by groups of sweaty men in scrum-like formation, roaring and jumping in sync to every word as the clock nears midnight. It’s therefore pleasing to say that Sunshine on Leith director Dexter Fletcher has salvaged 'I’m Gonna Be' from this drunken heap and handed it back to the young and in love.
The film, an adaptation of a successful stage musical of the same name, is based around the music of Scottish pop-folk icons The Proclaimers – their 1988 album Sunshine on Leith being their biggest hit. However, the songs all have enough stand-alone charm that there’s no need to Spotify the band’s back catalogue before heading to the cinema.
More televisual than cinematic, Fletcher refrains from tying Edinburgh up in a tartan bow, successfully creating the working class backdrop needed to carry Peter Mullen's gravelly tones. Mullen, who plays Rab, a typically staunch Scottish husband wedded to affection-seeking Jean (Jane Horrocks), father to ex-squaddie Davy (George MacKay) and heartbreaker Liz (Fraya Mavor), is the rod needed to prop up the unabashedly contrived plot — you can see ‘Letter From America’ signposted a mile off. However, unlike comparable pop-based musical fodder like Mamma Mia (which used each Abba hit as a buoyancy aid attached to a sinking storyline), writer Stephen Greenhorn’s tale of love and loss manages to maintain relevance and interest throughout.
Again, those familiar with Scottish festivities will be able to verify that it’s not unusual to watch a couple of pals banter in song as they walk down the street, or to find yourself in a pub where everyone, including the barmaid, is singing. It’s only the maudlin backing score that shatters the sense of reality here. Pandering further to national clichés throughout — not forgetting jibes directed at those pesky English — it’s the Scottish quirks that help keep the happy/sad balance just right.
Though Horrocks and MacKay occasionally let flattened vowels reveal their real life English roots, the cast all carry a tune very well and thankfully the younger members are spared a lick of Glee paint that may have nudged this a little to far into the realms of camp. Furthermore, there’s no reliance on album perfect versions of the songs as way to please fans of the band.
In addition to the core family, young British actors Kevin Guthrie and Antonia Lewis play equally weighty parts and it’s pleasing to watch them make the jump from small to big screen, both successfully emulating the personal vs professional dilemmas so often felt by aspirational twentysomethings. Predictable, but far more palatable than expected, Sunshine on Leith is an unashamedly enjoyable mix of pop storytelling and good ol' Scottish charm.
The Scots aren’t know for their musicals.
No surprises but you can’t help smiling.
One week on and still smiling.