Sunshine on Leith
Cert: PG / 100 mins / Dir. Dexter Fletcher
Hey, I enjoy a musical from time to time. I can't claim I like all musicals, in much the same way as I can't claim to like all sci-fi or all horror. And that, my friends, is the crux of my problem with Sunshine on Leith. I just don't think it's that good at what it's doing.
To be fair, I only had two real gripes with the film, but as those were a) the story and b) the music, that was enough to de-rail the entire thing for me. I don't think the plot itself is stong enough to warrant building an entire 100 minutes around, or that it's particularly well told for what it is. When we're introduced to Ally and Davy at the start, it's in that way which suggests we'll be spending the entire film with these characters, not that one of them (the one who's slightly more interesting) will be essentially written off before the third act. Not killed off; nothing that interesting, he just says in one scene that he's going to re-join the army, and then he does. No inner turmoil, no insight; just a scared young man with PTSD deciding to go back to a life-threatening situation, mistaking familiarity for safety. But let's not spend time exploring that, there's A Scottish Man here who's been told he might have to go into England one day, and now he's throwing his toys out of the pram over it (and it is a shame, because there's a great chemistry between George MacKay and Antonia Thomas, and between George and Kevin Guthrie, which is wasted in this).
A similar situation exists with Freya Mavor's character Liz, whose ultimate purpose in the script seems to be moving to America, facilitating the sending of letters, and a song based solely around that act. There's no tearful airport scene, by the way. One moment she's humming and haahing about emigrating to Florida, and 15 minutes later she's there (albeit for one solitary shot). We know she's in America because it's sunny and there are fat people in the background. I love visual storytelling, me.
By the time you've tacked on Jean (Jane Horrocks) and Rab (Peter Mullan) having an extended domestic over what is suggested for the first half of the film to be Mullan's previous relationship, and in the second half as a one-night-stand (and the addition of Jason Flemyng's half-written character apparently stepping in from some other musical entirely), the whole thing's a bit of a mess, frankly. There's a faint whiff of the anti-English rhetoric which seems to have found its way in by default rather than design; but as the resolution of the plotlines between Davy/Yvonne and Rab/Jean is essentially a patronising 'I'm glad you've come round to seeing things my way, woman', I think the film has larger issues than defiant Saltire-waving.
But hey, Sunshine On Leith is a musical, and it'd be remiss of me to treat it like the socially conscious drama it isn't. I like The Proclaimers. I can't go so far as calling myself 'a fan', but I do enjoy them on an unironic level. Great song structure, great harmonies, what's not to love? Well, the problem is that a large number of their songs only work when they're performed by The Proclaimers, which they're not in this. Some of the arrangements work well (despite the clunkiness of its presence, Letter From America sounds great), but for the most part it feels like karaoke. It's also worth pointing out that while getting English actors to speak in a consistently convincing Scottish accent is no doubt a challenge, getting them to sing in one seems almost impossible. That said, Peter Mullan's
So obviously there are The Hits in here, as well as songs which the average punter will be less familiar, which is all fair enough. But in addition to the patchy arrangements, the songs don't tell the story as such, they only seem to be there because the script has cued them up ('Hey, The Proclaimers have a song called 'Oh Jean'. If we call one of our characters Jean we can put that in there and it'll be seamless, I tell you. Seamless.'). I'm aware that this is generally how jukebox-musicals work, but in all honesty Mamma Mia! has a more effective song/story symbiosis than Sunshine on Leith. Yeah, I went there.
You sort of get the feeling that this was either a cheap cash-in, or the outcome of a bet that Stephen Greenhorn couldn't write a musical around The Proclaimers' songs. Either way, the end result seems to have been more important than the craft. I didn't expect to like Sunshine on Leith, but I was hoping I'd at least be able to respect it more.
It kind of is.
I genuinely have no idea.
Give it a year and it'll be on rotation on ITV2.
There is not.
When Craig Proclaimer and Charlie Proclaimer did their walk-on cameo three minutes into the film, did anyone else's toes curl so hard that they tore their shoes? That shit would make Stan Lee blush...
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