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Sunshine on Leith - Review

Sunshine on Leith

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DEXTER Fletcher’s follow-up to Wild Bill is a genuinely feel-good musical based around the songs of The Proclaimers that marks another major success for the fledgling director.

Inspired by Stephen Greenhorn’s stage musical of the same name, Sunshine on Leith combines heart-warming sentiment with something a little grittier, operating within a real world context and exploring themes and emotions that we can all relate to.

Kicking off with a tense sequence in Afghanistan, the film then follows young soldiers Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) as they return to Leith and try to re-adapt to civilian life.

For Davy, this involves hooking up with nurse Yvonne (Antonia Thomas), while Ally plans to marry Davy’s sister, Liz (Freya Mavor).

This all coincides with the story of Davy’s dad Rab (Peter Mullan), who finds the secret he has held from his wife, Jean (Jane Horrocks) for years is about to be revealed just as they plan to celebrate a key anniversary.

Early on, Fletcher’s film is bursting with enthusiasm and a knowing, even self-deprecating sense of humour that nods to the audience that this is mostly going to be about delivering a good time. The eagle-eyed among you should pay particular attention to blink-and-you-miss them cameos from The Proclaimers and Fletcher himself.

But there is, as Fletcher puts it, “dirt under the fingernails” too and it’s not all plain sailing for the characters. There is an emotional complexity present that’s missing from a lot of musicals based on the songs of particular bands (a la Mamma Mia).

And it’s here that Fletcher’s skill in allowing his actors to create flesh and blood, flawed characters really comes into its own, as you find yourself immersed in their stories.

Guthrie is particularly good as the charismatic Ally, who is faced with some difficult decisions come the end of the film, while MacKay is a similarly endearing presence whose outgoing charm hides a darkness he has brought home from his tour of duty. Both Thomas and Mavor also make strong impressions as the girls.

Mullan, meanwhile, embraces the chance to show a softer, more sensitive side to his usual hardman persona and delivers a genuinely compelling performance as the father of the piece, while Horrocks shines as the mother whose world is suddenly turned upside down by the revelation of her husband’s secret.

Fletcher uses the songs well, too, never allowing them to pull you out of the emotional drama, yet delivering the big crowd-pleasing moments when necessary and delivering the required feel-good rush (witness Jason Flemyng’s big number as one highlight, or the finale set to 500 Miles).

Just occasionally, some of the plot devices unfold at the same time and feel a little contrived, but Fletcher mostly gets the mix right. And the film has such a strong ability to melt the hardest of hearts that you’ll be too busy having a good time to notice.

Sunshine on Leith therefore offers a genuinely uplifting night out at the movies, while enhancing Fletcher’s burgeoning reputation as an eclectic and ambitious filmmaker of note.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 100mins
UK Release Date: October 4, 2013