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'Sunshine on Leith' review: A scrappy, lo-fi 'Glee' set in Edinburgh

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Director: Dexter Fletcher; Screenwriter: Stephen Greenhorn; Starring: George MacKay, Antonia Thomas, Kevin Guthrie, Freya Mavor, Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks; Running time: 100 mins; Certificate: PG


Dexter Fletcher made a seamless transition from acting to directing with 2011's Wild Bill, a London-set film about a fresh-out-of-prison dad trying to set things right with his two young sons. It's a bruising, sharp-of-wit drama that rightly earned plaudits and a BAFTA nomination, yet for Fletcher's follow-up he pulls a swift 180 to make a musical in Edinburgh based on the songs of The Proclaimers. You don't quite have to walk 500 miles to get from England to Scotland, but Fletcher's trip is near enough.

Based on Stephen Greenhorn's stage musical and screenplay adaptation, the film charts soldiers Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) as they return home and are forced to re-find their place outside of service. Ally's girlfriend Liz (Freya Mavor) is Davy's sister, and her best pal Yvonne hooks up with Davy. Much to Ally's chagrin, Liz has dreams of escaping Scotland for "sunshine and skyscrapers" abroad, while for Yvonne, a Brit, the pull of home is ever present. Running alongside the youngsters is the story of Davy and Liz's parents Rab (Peter Mullan) and Jean (Jane Horrocks), who are rocked by a secret from the past on their 25th wedding anniversary.

Antonia Thomas, Freya Mavor in Sunshine on Leith
When dealing with life, love and family, emotions will naturally run high. In the case of Sunshine on Leith, this is all articulated through song, specifically The Proclaimers. The likes of 'It's Over and Done With', 'Letters From America' and 'Oh Jean' are all carefully weaved into the storyline. The latter has an unlikely voice in Mullan, who excels in a role that's lighter and more fun than anything he's done in recent memory.

Those expecting a slick Les Mis-style experience might be best to look elsewhere. This is a scrappy, lo-fi musical produced on a relative shoestring - think Glee but 50 miles east of Glasgow. The songs are pre-recorded so they don't quite pack the emotional rawness of Tom Hooper's lavish production (which had the cast sing live on-camera), but the principle cast are all so good in the 'talkie' scenes that you're able to forgive the occasionally wonky lip-synching.

For this particular reviewer, The Proclaimers represent a gap in music knowledge. There's a sense of anticipation that builds as you wait for the group's biggest hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)' to arrive (for some this could translate to clock-watching). However, when it finally does Fletcher pulls out all the stops for an ambitious song and dance sequence on The Mound.

In the end, Sunshine on Leith will send you out the cinema with high spirits and an old '80s classic burned back into your mind. This is a joyous, heartfelt ode to Edinburgh and a fine antidote to the gritty kitchen sink drama or gangster flick that the British film industry traditionally leans on.

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