Review: Sunshine On Leith

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Starring: George MacKay, Kevin Guthrie, Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks, Freya Mavor, Antonia Thomas

Directed by: Dexter Fletcher

I knew nothing of Sunshine On Leith, until seeing the trailer for it a couple of months ago. I also know practically nothing about The Proclaimers, the band who originally sung the songs, apart from one song, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), but even that I knew from the US sitcom How I Met Your Mother. It’s been a while since we had a proper feel-good film musical though, so I couldn’t help look forward to this. 

Based on the stage musical by Stephen Greenhorn, the film is set in Edinburgh as it follows Ally (Kevin Guthrie) and Davey (George MacKay) who have just returned from Afghanistan, and their families as they all struggle with relationships, and getting on with daily life. Davey’s parents are played by Peter Mullan, as Rab, who has a past that has come back to trouble him 24 years later, and Jane Horrocks, as Jean. The cast also includes Freya Mavor (from Skins), who plays Liz, and Antonia Thomas (from Misfits) who plays Yvonne. The plot focus is shared between the story going on with Davey’s parents, and the lives of the Davey, Ally, Liz and Yvonne, and I wish it had spent a little more time on the younger ones than the parents, though that might just be personal preference.

Not knowing the original songs, I can’t comment on how the covers compare, but while the music is good, I don’t think I’ll be singing along to the soundtrack for years to come. A good portion of songs will really only please fans of The Proclaimers, and in places you can tell that’s its a jukebox musical, that the songs weren’t written specifically for the musical. There may have been some rewriting of lyrics done, but I couldn’t say, and most people wouldn’t be able to either. It’s not really criticism, and I didn’t particularly mind it, but you are being reminded every now and then that these are Proclaimers’ songs.

I thought all performances were pretty good, and I liked that everyone (apart from Antonia Thomas, as Yvonne is English) sung in Scottish accents, and that their voices weren’t recording-artist perfect. No one, not even Peter Mullan, sounded bad, but there was a realistic roughness to their voices. Acting-wise as well everyone was decent, though I suppose nothing was particularly challenging. John Spence plays Ally’s nephew, who is adorable, and quite funny, and it’s a shame he’s not in it more than he is. Edinburgh features quite significantly as well throughout the film, and it looks wonderful. It is the kind of musical that seems to fit Scotland very well, and I loved that the way it plays out makes it seems like everyone in Scotland knows the lyrics to any song of The Proclaimers, and join in, in perfect harmony at any moment.

The ending of any film is the most important moment to get right, because it’s the most influential on the mood and opinion of its audience as they leave the cinema. Given it’s the only song of theirs I know, I was waiting and anticipating I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), and the pay off is completely worth waiting the entire length if the film. Had it come any earlier, it might have seemed like a wasted opportunity, because ending with it works very well. The flash-mob, almost Bollywood style in which the climax made up for every mediocre moment the film had. I don’t imagine everyone will be as easy to please as I am when it comes to musicals, but no one will disagree that it is the best and most joyful moment. As the year comes to an end, films get more serious as we get ready for awards season, but Sunshine On Leith is the perfect bit of feel-good cinema.

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Sunshine On Leith releases on October 4th.

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