New Reviews

Trainspotting

(Danny Boyle, 1996) I was just barely 14 when Trainspotting came out, and it really can’t be overstated how big the movie was, how much it dominated the culture in 1996. I guess I can’t speak for all of Scotland, but in one dreary grey secondary school in the North East, it was everything, all of a sudden it was everywhere. Those police line-up posters, black white and orange, appeared on every bus stop, every billboard, every other page of … Continue reading Trainspotting

On Approval

(Clive Brook, 1944) Well, here’s an absolute treat. Another film I’d never heard of, this seems to be something of a hidden gem, adored and evangelized for by those who’ve seen it but largely unknown by the majority of us. It’s a loose adaptation of a 1926 play of the same name, but thoroughly modernized (for 1944) with an offbeat wraparound narrative gently mocking the idea that things used to be so much simpler (and more chaste) in the olden … Continue reading On Approval

Seagulls Over Sorrento

(John Boulting & Roy Boulting, 1954) Apparently, this was huge in the 50s, but is now largely pretty forgotten. I’d never heard of it before starting this list. It’s based on a 1950 play of the same name that was so successful it delayed the film’s release, because it was baked into the contract that the film couldn’t come out until the play had finished its West End run. It stars Gene Kelly in a purely dramatic role – no … Continue reading Seagulls Over Sorrento

Macbeth

(Justin Kurzel, 2015) I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about this one. I think, in some ways, my impression of it is tainted by having seen Kurzel, Fassbender, and Cotillard’s follow-up, Assassin’s Creed, so that I view every odd decision I don’t like – and every one I do – refracted through that lens. I mean, this is clearly a much better movie, but I did find I was less inclined to trust the director. So when, for … Continue reading Macbeth

Sunset Song

(Terence Davies, 2015) When I first moved to Edinburgh and told people I was from Stonehaven, they would almost always reply, ‘Oh, the incest place?’ Thank you, Lewis Grassic Gibbon. I never actually studied the book in school, though most of my friends’ classes did. All I knew was that it was ‘boring’ and set in and near Stoney. At the time, in the 1990s, there were still people alive who had known Gibbon as children, whose parents had chaffed … Continue reading Sunset Song

Carla’s Song

(Ken Loach, 1996) I watched this a couple of months ago, and I’ve been struggling to get my thoughts down coherently since. It’s one of those late-20th-century Leftist projects that undoubtedly has its heart in the right place, undoubtedly is trying to get across a good message and throw a light on harsh world realities, but which ultimately is quite muddled and grossly paternalistic. Its hero is a good working-class Glasgow boy who instigates the events of the film by … Continue reading Carla’s Song

Falling for Figaro

(Ben Lewin, 2021) Simultaneously much better than I was expecting and disappointing in comparison to its own first half hour, that I liked this at all is almost entirely down to Joanna Lumley, who, always amazing, is absolutely at the top of her game here. Every scene she’s in is a pure joy. Unfortunately, there are all too few of them, and they taper off rather alarmingly in the second half. Wealthy and unfulfilled American-in-London Millie Cantwell (Danielle Macdonald) quits … Continue reading Falling for Figaro

Kidnapped

(Delbert Mann, 1971) It’s hard to think of an actor with a more specific mode of speech than Michael Caine – except perhaps for Scotland’s own Sean Connery. Not just his accent, but his way of speaking, his manner of intonation. He epitomizes South London, and while he’s successfully played Posh many times over the years, he’s rarely played anything outside the M25. So for Caine to play Alan Breck – a man defined in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped not … Continue reading Kidnapped

Scottish Mussel

(Talulah Riley, 2015) Scottish Mussel is frequently referenced as shorthand for “terrible Scottish movie”, so let’s start off by saying: it’s not that bad, not really. It’s a big rolling mess of ill-conceived ideas, bizarre casting decisions, and failed executions, but I’ve seen a lot worse, and a couple of scenes are almost, sort-of enjoyable. You can see what they were going for. I wonder how much of the problem lies in the edit: how many of the jokes could … Continue reading Scottish Mussel

The Flesh and the Fiends

(John Gilling, 1960) This is widely held up as the best Burke and Hare film, and it probably is the best straight telling of that story, but I have to say that for a film inspired by the West Port Murders I’d point you to The Body Snatcher, which is unburdened by having to pay at least some lip-service to actual historical events, is based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story, features an incredible rain-drenched finale, and is blessed with … Continue reading The Flesh and the Fiends

Clive Barker’s Book of Blood

(John Harrison, 2009) I’ve been on a mini Clive Barker kick recently, enjoying Hellraiser and the original Candyman, so imagine my delight on discovering there’s a Barker horror film set in Edinburgh – and my even greater delight on realizing it’s actually pretty good. In fact, I think if this film had released in 1989 instead of 2009, it would be held up alongside those two behemoths as a mainstay of the Barker cinematic canon. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and it … Continue reading Clive Barker’s Book of Blood

Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes

(Antonio Margheriti, 1973) Another bonkers Italian horror set in a nebulously located Scottish castle. But where The Ghost was filmed entirely on an anonymous mansion set that could really have been anywhere in Europe and featured just one minor character with a Scottish accent, this film revels in its location, drawing on that old Scottish legend that when a cat follows a dead person, it means that person’s a vampire. You know, that one. So, yeah, this really just uses … Continue reading Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes

White Settlers

(Simeon Halligan, 2014) This was billed as the “Indy Ref horror” on release because it came out around the time of the first Referendum and it’s about an English couple who move to Scotland and are driven out by angry locals. Given that semi-officially-endorsed tagline, I was expecting something nuanced, a film with things to say about Independence and Nationalism and Foreign Rule and maybe even the differences between Rule By England and the status of English-born people living in … Continue reading White Settlers

Urban Ghost Story

(Geneviève Jolliffe, 1998) Now this, here, is a real treat. A late-90s tower-block horror about a teenage girl who survives a car crash and begins to experience poltergeist activity. It’s clearly low-budget, but the performances are uniformly solid – mixing gritty kitchen-sink realism with silly ghost-hunter camp – and the effects are just good (and simple) enough to compel. Things kick off with the aftermath of the crash that leaves Lizzie (Heather Ann Foster) technically dead for three minutes. She … Continue reading Urban Ghost Story

The Black Gloves

(Lawrie Brewster, 2017) An Edinburgh psychoanalyst (Jamie Scott Gordon) heads to a former orphanage in the Highlands following the death of a patient (Briony Monroe) when he learns the once great ballerina living there (Alexandra Hulme) reports seeing the same creepy image the patient did: a terrifying, elongated Owl Man. But is this a shared delusion or something more? It’s something more, of course – both because this is a horror movie, and because it’s a prequel (or at least … Continue reading The Black Gloves

The Loch Ness Horror

(Larry Buchanan, 1981) I had high hopes for a low-budget Nessie horror shot on Lake Tahoe by celebrated “schlockmeister” Larry Buchanan. But while the film has its oddball moments, it’s largely pretty tedious, with an awful lot of talking about its bizarrely complex plot and too few moments of wonky puppet murder. It also suffers from being fairly bloodless, with too many deaths happening just off-screen. Frankly, it could have stood to be a fair bit sleazier all round. That … Continue reading The Loch Ness Horror

Dog Soldiers

(Neil Marshall, 2002) A squad of soldiers go on a routine training exercise in the Highlands, but find the opposing side torn apart… by werewolves! Marshall’s first feature is dumb, bloody, and set the template for the whole of the rest of his career, right through to his Hellboy and 2020’s The Reckoning. And while The Descent is arguably his best work, and I have a deep love for the over-the-top maximalism of Doomsday, this remains for a lot of … Continue reading Dog Soldiers

Hunted

(Charles Crichton, 1952) A really rather splendid thriller from Ealing luminary Charles Crichton, who had just directed The Lavender Hill Mob the previous year. It begins in media res, with young boy Robbie (Jon Whiteley) running rather startlingly straight into the camera, across a busy London street; we follow him into a bombed-out basement, where he surprises unshaven ne’er-do-well Chris Lloyd (Dirk Bogarde), who is standing over a corpse. For reasons that are never entirely clear – least of all, … Continue reading Hunted

New Town Killers

(Richard Jobson, 2008) I thought this was going to be your basic “rich people hunt poor people for sport” thriller. Two New Town bankers pursue an unemployed kid from Leith through the Edinburgh night, revelling in the chase, intent on the kill. But while it absolutely is that, it also manages to be just a little more, taking some unexpected twists, going in some offbeat directions. And although it does still end up more or less where you’d imagine, it … Continue reading New Town Killers

The Ghost of St Michael’s

(Marcel Varnel, 1941) An Ealing Comedy in the best Music Hall tradition, this sees Will Hay playing hapless schoolmaster Will Lamb, who is transferred with his school to a castle on Skye to sit out the Second World War. When he arrives, he is told by stock comic Scots caretaker Jamie (John Laurie, on typically great form) that the castle is haunted: a former laird died in his bed of a broken heart, and now whenever anyone hears the ghostly … Continue reading The Ghost of St Michael’s

The Party’s Just Beginning

(Karen Gillan, 2018) Another worthy entry into the “there’s nothing to do in Scottish towns except get drunk and fall over” subgenre. But while I thought The Party’s Just Beginning was going to be a sort of Scottish Young Adult, about a woman who really should have got her shit together by now but just kind of hasn’t, it turns out to be a more specific meditation on grief and alienation and the banal horror of being left behind by … Continue reading The Party’s Just Beginning

Madame Sin

(David Greene, 1972) This is a lovely slice of lurid 70s pulp. Former intelligence agent Anthony Lawrence (Robert Wagner) is kidnapped by Denholm Elliott and spirited away to a secret castle on a tiny Scottish island, where he is introduced to the mysterious Madame Sin, played with aplomb – and clear relish – by the great Bette Davis. With barely any preamble, Sin shows Lawrence her array of mind-altering devices and industrious research scientists, and asks him to help her … Continue reading Madame Sin

Hallam Foe

(David Mackenzie, 2007) Hallam Foe was kind of a watershed film for me. I’d seen Edinburgh on the big screen before, of course: in Trainspotting, in Shallow Grave (sort of), in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. But I’d never seen my Edinburgh, the post-student-life jumbled middle-class wynds and closes of the Old Town. No drug dens or palatial bay-windowed flats, just pokey wee stairwells, impossibly interlaced lattices of bridges, and a sky full of slate-tiled rooftops, stretching away to … Continue reading Hallam Foe

What Every Woman Knows

(Gregory La Cava, 1934) I quite enjoyed this film, although it’s hobbled by a tonal clash between the sparkling and often quite waspish humour of the J.M. Barrie play it’s based upon and the shortbread-tin Hollywood schmaltz that’s spooned over the top of it as a result of its Scottish setting. So we get a well-observed comedy of the sexes, and of the male ego in particular, burdened by a Loch Lomond leitmotif – including a scene in which the … Continue reading What Every Woman Knows

Edie

(Simon Hunter, 2017) Octogenarian Londoner Edie (Sheila Hancock) has seemingly reached the end of the road: her invalided husband has died, and her daughter is preparing to cart her off to a retirement home, to crumble into jigsaw-puzzling ruin with the rest of the living dead. But while going through some boxes in anticipation of her move, Edie comes across an old postcard inviting her to climb Suilven, a mountain in the northern Highlands, and realises she’s not ready to … Continue reading Edie

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