Sunshine on Leith (2013) – Made My Heart Fly for a while, but glad when it was Over And Done With…

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Sunshine on Leith is a workmanlike crowdpleaser adapted from the musical of the same name, a story of two squaddies told in large part by the songs of The Proclaimers. The game cast breezily warm the cockles and the songs serve the slender plot well before the film’s torpid mid-section gets bogged down in maudlin marital melodrama.

It will take a very hard hearted person to actually dislike Dexter Fletcher’s sophomore effort as director, but for all its good intentions, I was just hanging around for the Edinburgh duo’s two biggest hits to make an appearance by the end.

“Jukebox musicals” have become increasingly popular over the past decade, with shows popping up all over the West End based on the songs of everyone from Johnny Cash (Ring of Fire) to The Spice Girls (Viva Forever!). The format is simple – grab a bunch of songs by a popular artist or band, shoehorn them into a serviceable plot, then stand back and listen to the ringing of the cash register.

The music of The Proclaimers hardly seemed appealing at first – I like to have a good old shout-along to I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) as much as the next person, but I think it is fair to say the pop folk twinset’s main fanbase is north of the border. However, the salty, working-class lyrics match the story perfectly – or should it be the other way round?

The nominal story introduces us to Davy (George McKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie), two mates discharged from the Army after a tour in Afghan, back in Edinburgh to reunite with their families, find love, jobs, and launch into song every five minutes or so.

Ally gets back with his frosty girlfriend Liz (Freyer Mavor), who also happens to be Davy’s sister. Liz introduces Davy to her English friend Yvonne (Antonia Thomas), and they start dating.

The second major plotline – and the one that eventually brings the film to a shuddering halt – follows Davy’s parents, Rab (Peter Mullen) and Jean (Jane Horrocks). They seem like a happy couple, but the shit hits the fan when Jean discovers, at their 25th wedding anniversary party, that Rab has a daughter from a fling early in their marriage.

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That’s pretty much it – will Ally & Liz get hitched, or will she take that internship in America? (Good job it is in America instead of Botswana or Bolivia, otherwise the writers may have found it tricky fitting a certain Proclaimers hit into the story…) Will Davy & Yvonne’s low-wattage romance take flight, or will she bugger off back to London? Will Jean find it in her heart to forgive Rab his transgression from decades earlier?

Mackay and Guthrie labour gamely with the songs, making Pierce Brosnan’s efforts in Mamma Mia! sound like Pavarotti, but there is little to distinguish the duo’s characters apart from height. They both seem like nice lads who are not above putting the nut in during a punch up, but nice lads all the same. The paper-thin characterisation extends to the girls, with Thomas fairing slightly better than Mavor, although without lighting it up like she did as the feisty, raunchy Alisha in Misfits. Mavor’s character is so pale and lightly written that she barely registers.

The two strongest performances are by Mullen and Horrocks, which is a shame, because it is their part of the film that causes it to flatline. I loved Horrocks in Little Voice, the 1998 musical about a girl so timid she can barely speak to anyone, but who can belt out a mean Edith Piaf or Shirley Bassey in private. Here, Horrocks lays on the emoting a bit too thick. It’s a good performance, and it is always nice to see Jane Horrocks on the screen, but I noticed that I stopped enjoying the songs so much when it seemed like she was singing all of them.

Mullen is the heart of the film, a devoted family man whose careworn face and sad eyes reflect a lifetime of living down regret.

Fletcher keeps the film rattling along at a perky pace, perhaps to disguise the flimsiness of Stephen Greenhorn’s underwritten screenplay. If there was some more meat on these characters, their story would be more rewarding, but instead Greenhorn just wedges another song into proceedings whenever a scene seems about to run out of puff.

George Richmond’s functional lensing works well enough, although repeated shots of the Edinburgh skyline make you wonder if the Scottish Tourist Board had a few quid at stake in the venture.

Sunshine on Leith is a likeable film, and an admirable showcase for the music of the Proclaimers, songs full of wit and pithy observations, and also a sense of melancholy and longing for home. I remember them from the telly when I was a kid and I thought they were some joke band, so I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of their work.

Stand out numbers which I wasn’t familiar with before include Sky Takes the Soul during the dramatic pre-credit sequence; Over and Done With during a knees-up in a pub, and Make My Heart Fly sung by the four romantic leads. Of course, I was still waiting for I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) to kick in – which is duly does, in a rather embarassing song and dance routine which would seem more at home in a building society commercial than as the final showstopper of a screen musical.

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About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 28/03/2014, in Comedy, Drama, Entertainment, Film, Musicals, Reviews, Romance and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think I enjoyed this more than you did as I really love all the music of the Proclaimers. But I totally agree with you on the plot weaknesses and on the star turns, hits and misses. Great review!

    • Thanks! It was a pleasant surprise – like I said in the review, I grew up thinking they were some joke one hit wonders, so I didn’t expect to enjoy the songs as much as I did.

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