Having completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan, young soldiers Davy (George Mackay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) return home to Edinburgh. Adjusting to civilian life, Ally reunites with Davy’s sister Liz (Freya Mavor), while Davy finds himself paired off with Liz’s English friend Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). Meanwhile, Davy’s parents (Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks) find their long-term marriage rocked by a devastating revelation from the past…
Providing a joyous antidote to the grim social realism that Scottish cinema has become associated with, Sunshine On Leith is a charming, big-hearted crowd-pleaser. Adapted from Stephen Greenhorn’s hit stage play, it’s energetic and likeable yet crucially real and authentic, providing actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher with a triumphant follow-up to his terrific directorial debut, Wild Bill. On paper, of course, the notion of a “Proclaimers musical” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but prospective viewers should note that this isn’t a movie about the spec-tastic twins from Auchtermuchty. Far from the cringey Karaoke session you might be expecting, Fletcher’s adaptation is a satisfying marriage of story and song, blending engaging character drama with winning performances and catchy musical numbers that won’t be denied. As such, it’s Scottish feel-good film to be proud of. A feel-braw, if you will.
In truth, the story itself isn’t especially remarkable. But once again Fletcher demonstrates a knack for capturing powerful moments (think of the paper-plane sequence from Wild Bill), typified here by a potent scene where Davy’s parents come to a heartbreaking realisation at their Silver Wedding anniversary. As the title suggests, Sunshine On Leith is undoubtedly sunnier than Fletcher’s aforementioned debut, but yet it still manages to provide heart and warmth without tipping over into cheesy, sentimental territory. Take the climax, for example. Hoping to stop Yvonne leaving Edinburgh, Davy makes a frantic dash to the train station – taking a route that locals might find geographically questionable – before attempting to win her back in front of a curious crowd of onlookers. Admittedly, this sounds worryingly close to the sort of cloying, schmaltz-heavy finale you’d expect from a Richard Curtis flick – and in a way it is. But the difference here, however, is that the big moment feels as though it’s been earned, and that the accompanying drama doesn’t feel cheap or emotionally manipulative in the slightest.
The music, meanwhile, is surprisingly infectious and toe-tapping, with Fletcher even managing to ensure that one of the most worn-out anthems in all of pop culture – yes, 500 Miles – is given a fresh spin. Again, it might put some viewers off that the story is regularly punctuated by sing-a-long musical numbers, but here the tunes are well-judged and wisely used as part of the narrative. It helps, of course, that the young cast are utterly game, while Peter Mullan (who demonstrates a surprisingly tender singing voice) and Jane Horrocks provide the sort of seasoned class they were presumably hired for. Arguably, though, the real star of the show is Edinburgh, with Fletcher and cinematographer George Richmond ensuring that the capital looks striking and gorgeously picturesque throughout.
Providing a joyous antidote to the grim social realism that Scottish cinema has become associated with, Sunshine On Leith is a charming, big-hearted crowd-pleaser. Far from the cringey Karaoke session you might be expecting, it’s an engaging feel-good experience. A feel-braw, if you will.