Edinburgh vs. Hollywood – no contest!

Edinburgh vs. Hollywood – no contest!
Written by Aija   
Monday, 14 October 2013

 

I recently saw a film that took place in Dublin, near where I had lived years ago. And that little titbit of personal reference got me thinking of films based in Edinburgh. There are quite a few actually, but for the sake of keeping thing interesting, I’ve chosen to enlighten you as well as myself on four particular.The first two were originally novels by Irvine Welsh, the wild child of Edinburgh, writing observatory stories about the underbelly of the most popular city in Europe. Mainly written in Scottish vernacular, Welsh incorporates not just the uniqueness of Edinburgh city, but also the uniqueness of language, with its singsong qualities of the dialectal style and the rhyming slang. Describing the existence of the squalor underground in culturally rich Edinburgh to the finest detail, Welsh has even the most desensitized reader thinking twice.

Trainspotting follows a group of heroin addicts in the late 1980’s, where no matter how you look at it, the lives of the characters are going to end up in purgatory or something worse. Welsh has a knack for tapping in to the subculture. The energy in the film pulls you in, but at the same time you feel like a voyeur and wish you had never peeped in the first place. The allure of the lifestyle has Renton as hooked as the viewer is in following the fast paced film.

What is even more intriguing is that after two decades, the original cast, also with the original director Danny Boyle, of Trainspotting coming together, set to return for a sequel. Based on the follow up novel Porno (2002), the script is finally in progress and the film is planned to be released in 2016, or the twentieth anniversary of the original. Boyle laments on the reasons of doing a sequel; “The reason for doing it again is that people cherish the original, people remember it or have caught up with it if they never saw it because they were younger.”

Also from Welsh comes Filth. Just couple weeks ago Filth opened in cinemas across UK and, as we have grown to know with Welsh, is already tearing viewers and critics into two very distinct groups; those who hate it, and those who love it. Despite which group you might belong to, might be best to avoid the film with a full stomach as Welsh rips right into the seamiest side of human nature with his main character Bruce, who is anything but pleasant, as far from anti-hero even as you could imagine. You cannot sympathize with Bruce, but you can – and you will – pity him.

Much in the vein of Trainspotting, Welsh one again dips into the junkie filled general horridness of Edinburgh’s underbelly. Welsh himself said Filth was the one from his books he most wanted to see being made into a film, as it had the “most potential for a bold filmmaker.” Not for the faint hearted, as anything by Welsh is tapping into that “peculiar extremism to Scottish self-destruction, (…) perhaps because it has to work so hard to drown out the vocal little Puritan lurking in the Scottish psyche” .

Too heavy, too potentially gut wrenching? Then you would probably enjoy the feel-good Edinburgh’s cinematic gift to musicals – Sunshine on Leith. First a stage hit and now a feature film that enchants audiences. Who would have thought to make a film of two young soldiers, returning from Afganistan to re-enter civilian life – and to make it a musical? Preposterous, you might think. But Sunshine on Leith might not be the best film you have ever seen, but it certainly is very likeable. The music of Scotland’s very own the Proclaimers provides the tone and soundtrack (think of Mamma Mia and Abba and you get what I mean) for the film, a jukebox musical that will have you dancing and singing even days after you saw the film.

Whereas as Trainspotting did not offer much in the views of our gorgeous Edinburgh, Filth and Sunshine on Leith both have those of us who have not been here as long as well as those who have grown up here exclaiming in excitement “that’s where I …!” or “Remember just there…!”

The lyrics of the Proclaimers’ repertoire employ as the narrative drive – for example when during I Met You, Davy sings the line “And then one night I went to Morningside and you were waiting” to Yvonne, who, sure enough, has a flat in Miss Jean Brodie’s former neighbourhood.

And one more for the road, something quite different than the first three described films. Angel’s Share is rough, and not just round the edges, but it dives into the life of the young ne’er do well Robbie’s life during a time when he has to make the roughest decisions of whether to continue down his squalored ways or become a better man. Definitely the kind of film you would not expect to get under your skin but does. Director Ken Loach is a master at Loach is a master of sudden, disturbing shifts of mood, and embedding the comedy in works that are often deeply sad or tragic .

Technically not an Edinburgh film, as Robbie and his fellows are based in Glasgow, but they do venture out to Edinburgh for some whisky tasting, and that is where they get their grand idea that ultimately leads to Robbie’s transformation. Angel’s Share is tuned into the seemingly permanent youth unemployment and the despair and communal erosion it engenders. But the realistic and humanistic tone is bracingly optimistic, and when Robbie packs Leonie in their van, to start a new life in Stirling, you know you have witnessed an ultimate redemption Robbie needed in order to put his old life behind him.

The term Angel’s share, well-known for the connoisseurs from the distilling lore, transform with Robbie from a joke about capitalist exploitation that turns at the end of the film into a metaphor for generosity and gratitude.

All of these films, and more, make Edinburgh that much special.

 

Locations worth seeing from the films:

Trainspotting was mainly filmed in Glasgow, though you can see how fast you can run from  the Princes Street to Calton Street Bridge – why not.

Stroll around some of the more off-beat alleys and passages much like Bruce in Filth

Dance in front the National Galleries like in Sunshine on Leith, or 

Go for whisky tasting as in Angel’s Share in either the excellent The Scotch Whisky Experience or equally great Whiski Rooms.

 

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