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Sunshine on Leith - Film Review

Home > Brisbane > Film Reviews | Musicals | Cinema
Published June 9th 2014
Worth walking a hundred miles for

The poster for "Sunshine on Leith" proclaims:

"Simply glorious..the feel fabulous film of the year". "Exuberantly funny and achingly tender".

Usually you dilute promotional blurbs to taste. Not this time. This is a marvellous film – a prime candidate for one of the best films seen this year.

So what's so good about it?

Let's start with the songs.

When did we last have a modern musical with a dozen strong and memorable songs? And when did the words have the rough edged tenderness and honesty that the Proclaimers have given us here?

A few examples:

The film starts in Afghanistan, with soldiers in an armoured vehicle well aware that this day could be their last. A song begins.

It could be tomorrow, or it could be today
When the sky takes the soul
The earth takes the clay

I sometimes wonder why I pray
When my spirit drives away
With a faith and a bit of luck
And a half-tonne bomb in the back of a truck

It could be tomorrow, or it could be today
When the sky takes the soul
The earth takes the clay

The next scene has two of the soldiers back in Edinburgh, joyously celebrating their survival, dancing through the streets, and singing a very familiar song

I'm on my way from misery to happiness today
I'm on my way from misery to happiness today

In the middle of a celebration of twenty five years of marriage, a wife makes a devastating discovery which threatens to break up her partnership. Torn between her long loving partnership and her feeling of betrayal, she sings

I like the smell of petrol
I love the taste of booze
But I hate my love for you
Yeah I hate my love for you

I like Johnny Cash
Singing "A Boy Named Sue"
But I hate my love for you
Yeah I hate my love for you

You're worse than drink
You're worse than crack
For you they should bring hanging back
And I should be the one to string you up

I hate the sound of cliche
As it begins to call
But I hate my love for you
Most of all

In a hospital ward, the same wife sings to her seriously ill husband

Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness
While I'm worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the Chief, puts Sunshine On Leith
I'll thank him for his work
And your birth and my birth

And that's only four songs of a dozen

And then there's the script. Yes we know that this film is based on a stage show which was itself a "juke box musical" created around already written songs. That could have made it contrived and shallow. It doesn't. The script is hard-edged and "real". We believe in the people, and hence, somehow, when they sing it is an extension of their personality, and seems the most natural thing in the world.

And then there is the setting.

Woody Allen seems to have established the genre of celebrating cities almost as characters in his films. Paris in "Midnight in Paris", London, in "Match Point", Rome in "To Rome with Love".

In "Sunshine on Leith" Edinburgh is the star – the Scott Monument, the Castle, Princes Gardens, the narrow walkways, the Waverley steps from Princes Street to the railway station, sunset over the castle. But the settings are also down to earth – the pub – the hospital – the tenement stairs.

And then there is the plot. On one level we have seen it all. Hearts are broken and hearts are mended, tears are cried and tears are dried, adult children leave and children come back, secrets are kept and secrets are revealed. We are told there are only seven basic plots – what matters in this film (as in all compelling drama) is what the writers do with them, and how engaged we feel.

What makes it compulsively watchable… are the characters. We believe in them, and we want things to work out for them.

"Sunshine on Leith" is a film in which people break out into singing and dancing at work, at home, in the street and yet they seem gritty and real and earthed, and we are interested and involved in their hopes, and hurts and the messy turmoil of feelings as relationships evolve and erode, fracture and heal and disintegrate.

At the end we have been taken through a roller-coaster of emotions so when at least some of it comes right we are ready to celebrate.

And staid respectable Edinburgh, home of Presbyterianism and reformed theology, lets its hair down as several hundred Edinburgians join in a flash mob, singing

But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

I just love this film.
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Why? Beautifully crafted,a joy to watch
When: From 7th June
Where: Cinemas over Australia
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