FILM REVIEW: Sunshine on Leith

Sunshine on Leith (Dexter Fletcher, 2013)

George MacKay, Kevin Guthrie, Antonia Thomas & Freya Mavor
George MacKay, Kevin Guthrie, Antonia Thomas & Freya Mavor

There aren’t many movie musicals these days that aren’t a) well-known Broadway smashes (Les Misérables, Mamma Mia), b) animated films (Frozen, Tangled), c) crap remakes of 80s dance films (Footloose, Fame), or d) amazingly bad telemovies (Lovestruck: The Musical). Sunshine on Leith is thus somewhat of a refreshing change.

Not that anything can surpass a good Broadway smash (I CAN’T WAIT FOR JERSEY BOYS!) or a Disney animated feature (I heart Frozen). Sunshine on Leith is a traditional movie musical based on a Scottish stage musical from 2007. In a similar vein to Mamma Mia (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008), it creates an original story out of a music group’s catalogue. This time, it is The Proclaimers, known most famously for their shouty “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)”. That song always brings loud, drunk people together on the dance floor. Apparently they had other songs too.

Flash mob!
Flash mob!

In Sunshine on Leith, soldiers Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) return to their hometown of Leith, Edinburgh, after fighting in the war in Afghanistan. Reportedly, the film is meant to demonstrate how the two men struggle to readjust to their everyday lives out of the war zone, though this is pretty light on. Though I suppose Davy and Ally are the two leads, this is more of an ensemble piece, with each member of Davy’s family – sister Liz (Freya Mavor), mother Jean (Jane Horrocks), and father Rab (Peter Mullan) –  getting their fair share of screen time, along with Davy’s burgeoning love interest, Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). The film shifts between lighter and darker moments, and while it never gets too dark, it could have been funnier. There was a delightful little boy who made an early appearance as Ally’s kid nephew, and it’s a shame we didn’t see much more of him because he promised hilarity.

Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullan
Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullan

It’s easy to see how Sunshine on Leith would have worked as a live musical – it has big ridiculous choreographed numbers that seem suited to a stage, culminating in a flash mob finale. My favourite number was ‘Should Have Been Loved’, which was delivered by a hilariously over-the-top Jason Flemyng. Other highlights included the whole Edinburgh pub singing ‘Over and Done With’, and a bunch of blokey men singing ‘Let’s Get Married’ in yet another Edinburgh pub. There are a heap of other songs but none of them really grabbed me. I don’t think I’m much of a Proclaimers fan. Unfortunately, my love for a musical is almost entirely related to the score so I can’t say it was one of my favourites.

Kevin Guthrie & Freya Mavor
Kevin Guthrie & Freya Mavor

Sunshine on Leith bordered right on the brink of being almost awkward in the way in which they burst into song, and that’s saying something coming from me. If you hate musicals, you’re a dick don’t see this. You’ll hate it. It won’t border on the brink for you. It will probably just reinforce your outdated stereotypical views of musicals. As someone who loves the genre, I’d say it came close to awkwardness, but the performers were able to just pull it off. I’m not sure if many of them were trained singers, but they did a fine job for the most part.

No one puts baby in a corner
No one puts baby in a corner

There are no big names in the cast, except perhaps for Jane Horrocks who might be a little more well-known that the rest. She too was on the brink of being annoying but she just got away with it. George MacKay as Davy was an interesting choice for a leading man – that hair! It was quintessential dork. Or maybe it was just meant to be army hair that had grown a bit. Nevertheless, it was pretty bad, and I think I appreciated that (though obviously a less than perfect looking male lead is a lot more common than a female one for bullshit reasons). MacKay, Kevin Guthrie, and Freya Mavor all gave natural performances that were admirable. Antonia Thomas was sweet but as the only British character she stuck out as a bit too Brit-sitcom to me. Peter Mullan as Rab was the stand-out, and Jason Flemyng added great comic value, even if he was a bit Pierce Brosnan-esque (à la Mamma Mia). But let’s face it, Pierce Brosnan provided the biggest laughs in that film and I am so glad he was cast.

Jason Flemyng busts a move
Jason Flemyng busts a move

The Edinburgh locations are stunning, and – appropriately for a Scottish musical – as a new addition to the movie musical genre, Sunshine in Leith is a breath of fresh air. The Proclaimers are no Abba though, and they certainly ain’t no Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Excuse me while I hyperventilate in anticipation of what will surely be THE BEST movie musical of the year. In the meantime, you can venture out to see this, but only if you’re not a dick appreciative of the genre.

3 stars

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