Following on from the success of his directorial debut Wild Bill, Dexter Fletcher turns his attention to adapting a stage musical. Sunshine of Leith is a musical drama set in Edinburgh to a soundtrack composed entirely of songs by The Proclaimers.
Following an attack on their armoured personal carrier, Scottish soldiers Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) return home to Edinburgh. Slotting back into their old lives they go straight to see Davy’s mum Jean (Jane Horrocks), dad Rab (Peter Mullan) and sister Liz (Freya Mavor) who is also Ally’s girlfriend. After a night in the pub with Liz’s friend Yvonne (Antonia Thomas) the happy lives that everyone has been accustomed to are slowly rocked by the dawning realisation that what they want may not be what they have.
Musicals are an odd beast in films. Much like other heavily stylised genres such as horror they tend to have their audience as well as their detractors. What Fletcher is able to do with Sunshine on Leith is create a film that is at its core a musical, but with some truly dramatic flourishes that wouldn’t be out of place in a more standard drama. As a director who has come from an acting background, you would expect him to be able to get the best out of his cast. What is surprising is the deft eye he has for scene selection and memorable dramatic construction. This is not to say that his ability to handle his cast is anyway diminished.
This heavy-lifting is left almost entirely to Peter Mullan, and he proves more than capable in handling it. For an actor with such range and depth, the character of Rab might seem a little too simplistic, yet he still manages to get every single drop of pathos and emotion out of his scenes and proves once again why he is one of the best actors working today. The rest of the cast are also good, although some of them struggle to handle the actual singing, which causes a problem.
The pacing is also a little bit off, with some songs given too long on screen, leading to a sense that you’re just waiting for them to end. Then there’s the actual plot itself. Clearly constructed with the available songs in mind, there is a sense that the narrative is forced, which provides a somewhat unsatisfying flow throughout.
The success of Sunshine of Leith relies on a number of things. Do you like musicals? Do you like The Proclaimers? Do you like the Scottish accent? If the answer to all these questions is yes, you’ll no doubt enjoy it. In terms of quality Dexter Fletcher does the best he can with the tools at his disposal, proving his quality behind the camera was not a one-off.