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Sunshine On Leith: A film that brings a warm glow

Need a movie to blow away autumnal gloom? David Whetstone prescribes Sunshine On Leith

Dexter Fletcher's feelgood musical, starring Peter Mullan
Dexter Fletcher's feelgood musical, starring Peter Mullan

There are few things nicer than going to see a show or a film you know little about and being bowled over.

This happened when I attended a preview screening of Sunshine On Leith at the Tyneside Cinema.

I should have known a lot about the film since I was due to interview director Dexter Fletcher afterwards in front of the late night audience.

This turned out to be an easy task. For one thing, Dexter Fletcher is the nicest of men. Moreover, Sunshine On Leith is one of the loveliest of films.

True, one audience member did say it had been a bit sweet for her. But for me it touched the same nerve as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Gregory’s Girl, also low budget surprise hits that made me feel better about the world.

Surprisingly, since it features squaddies, Sunshine On Leith doesn’t have Four Weddings-style swearing.

It does, however, have a lot of songs – and all are by The Proclaimers, Scottish twins Charlie and Craig Reid. This is, in fact, a musical rather of the ilk of Mamma Mia! – although more to my taste.

It starts with young Scots Davy and Ally (played by George MacKay and Kevin Guthrie) returning to their loved ones from a tour of Afghanistan where they have seen pals killed or maimed.

It’s quite a bleak start. But then, as the lads stride jauntily home through Edinburgh, the music and the dancing begin. If it sounds cheesy, the plot and songs are tried and tested. Sunshine On Leith began as a play in 2007 by Scottish playwright Stephen Greenhorn. It was an enormous hit in Dundee.

Dexter Fletcher
Dexter Fletcher

The film adaptation, with Greenhorn’s screenplay, was premiered at the Toronto Film Festival where it made seasoned critics smile. It opens on Friday and will warm a lot of hearts, not least of those who invested in it.

At the Tyneside, Dexter Fletcher asked everyone leaving the cinema: “Did you enjoy the film?”

He seemed a bit anxious. Understandable. A seasoned actor he may be, having starred as a child in Bugsy Malone, as a young man in Press Gang and as an adult in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but this was only his second job in the director’s chair.

As he pointed out, his first effort, Wild Bill, a gritty drama set in London, was quite different. It was, though, successful enough for the producers of ‘Sunshine’ to call on the Cockney and send him north.

Asked about casting, Dexter said a director starts with his wish list. Marlon Brando being unavailable, he turned to seasoned character actors like Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullan and to talented youngsters who could sing and dance.

Mullan, who is also a respected director, had behaved with complete propriety as a professional actor should, said Dexter, while intimating that he had added a little polish, telling him: “I’ll do it this way... then see what you think.”

Horrocks, who demonstrated her vocal skills in Little Voice 15 years ago, is brilliant, as are all the youngsters. And if this film helps to give their careers lift off, it should do no harm for The Proclaimers.

Music historian Chris Phipps recalls that they were showcased as young lads on The Tube. He had booked them “against great opposition” from production staff who called them “unintelligible”.

Well, they’re big now. And the songs in the film are great.

Sunshine On Leith... if you’re not a professional miserablist and fancy a movie to warm the cockles of your heart, see it. As I will - again!


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer