From A Taste of Honey (1961) to Rocks (2019), British cinema has plenty to offer when it comes to films about the young and restless. But of all the nations of the UK, it’s arguably Scotland that has offered the most formal invention and thematic bite – regarding issues of class, wealth gaps and isolation – when it comes to cinematic tales of youth.
Some of Scotland’s greatest filmmakers – Lynne Ramsay and Bill Forsyth among them – got their start with films told from the point of view of troubled kids and gawky teenagers. Directors from further south in the UK, meanwhile, have made some of their best work when journeying north and drawing from young talent.
While the relatively small pool of Scottish teen films leans towards narratives set in or around Edinburgh and Glasgow, you rarely find one that’s indistinguishable from another thanks to the distinctive imprints of their directors. Delinquency is a common thread, but you’re not going to confuse Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen (2002) with Peter Mullan’s Neds (2010).
The feature debut of writer-director Ninian Doff, horror-comedy Get Duked! (2019), supported by the BFI Film Fund, sees 4 teenage boys on a highlands trek stalked by wealthy aristocrats hunting them for sport. Not just a foul-mouthed riff on The Most Dangerous Game (1932), the film also has much on its mind about class warfare and the bad hand dealt to Generation Z.
To mark its release on 28 August, exclusive to Amazon Prime Video, here are 10 of the best films about Scottish youth…
Full feature for the BFI
Among the creative industries, the coronavirus pandemic has had a particularly big impact on movies and theatre, with cinemas and stages closed – and filming halted mid-production. For Scottish rising star Marli Siu, whose big screen debut was in cult horror musical Anna and the Apocalypse, there’s been an effect on multiple music-heavy projects.
Firstly, her indie film Run opened in March during growing uncertainty, lasting just five days before lockdown scuppered attendance (it’s out on digital this week). Inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen and starring Game of Thrones’ Mark Stanley, the thrifty 76-minute drama follows an existentially frustrated father in the Scottish town of Fraserburgh, who swipes his son’s car for a late night drag race.
Later this year, Siu will also feature in Our Ladies, the long-awaited adaptation of Alan Warner’s beloved 1998 novel The Sopranos (no mafia connection), which had its planned multiplex release in April pushed back to September. The Derry Girls-ish film follows five riotous teenagers from the Highlands running wild in mid-’90s Edinburgh for an afternoon of debauchery. But before that, you’ll see her on the small screen in Prime Video’s new series Alex Rider, based on Anthony Horowitz’s bestselling spy novels and also starring national treasure Vicky McClure.
Basically, Marli’s got a lot going for her right now. So, we dropped her a line to find out why she’s suddenly such a big deal…
Full interview for NME
Following Shell (2012) and Iona (2015), Run sees writer-director Scott Graham return to exploring characters in another relatively isolated Scottish community, this time his own hometown of Fraserburgh, a fishing town in the country’s far northeast. “I’m never sure how people from my home town are going to feel about it,” Graham says. “I think they would be the first to recognise it’s not an easy place to live.”
Speaking to us at the Glasgow Film Festival, where Run had a Scottish premiere a few weeks before its UK-wide release, Graham mentions a few audience members had travelled down from Fraserburgh to see the film early: “They seemed to really like it. They were very complimentary to the cast on the work they’d done on the local dialect.”
A feature-length expansion of one of Graham’s earlier shorts, Run is rooted in both the specificities of its Scottish setting and certain anxieties informed by American culture. It explores the malaise of thirtysomething Finnie (Mark Stanley), who has an increasingly fraught relationship with his two sons and wife Katie (Amy Manson), who was his teenage sweetheart – the pair have tattoos quoting Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’…
Full interview for the BFI
Scottish writer/director Scott Graham regularly explores isolated communities in the furthest reaches of Scotland. His third feature, Run, advances his explorations of family and regret to Fraserburgh in the far northeast, a small town where the fishing industry dominates. Thirtysomething Finnie (Mark Stanley), a fish factory worker, has a malaise that’s sabotaging his relationships with teenage-sweetheart-turned-wife, Katie (Amy Manson), and their two sons…
Full review for Little White Lies
Glasgow Film Festival returns for its 16th edition in 2020, running from 26 February to 8 March. For the first time in GFF’s history, the opening and closing gala films are both directed by women filmmakers, with the closing night falling on International Women’s Day.
Based on Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel, festival closer How to Build a Girl stars Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein as a young working-class woman becoming a music critic. It’s to be the first theatrically released feature in more than 20 years from English director Coky Giedroyc (Stella Does Tricks), who has worked on recent TV favourites like The Hour and Harlots. French director Alice Winocour will open the festival with her latest, Proxima, in which Eva Green plays an astronaut and mother preparing for a year-long space mission.
On International Women’s Day, every film screened that day will be either directed or written by a woman or featuring a female lead. Women directors are also the subject of Mark Cousins’ 14-hour documentary Women Make Film: A New Road Movie through Cinema, which will be shown in five instalments. Overlooked gems from the past from directors Joan Micklin Silver, Larisa Shepitko, Euzhan Palcy and more will screen in support.
With nine world premieres, 10 European premieres, 102 UK premieres and 39 Scottish premieres to choose from, as well as retrospectives, talks and immersive events, choosing tickets wisely can be difficult. Here are 10 highlights from across this year’s bumper programme…
Full feature for the BFI
An annual celebration of Japanese animation that takes place at Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, the Scotland Loves Anime festival reaches a milestone 10th edition in October 2019. “It always feels like we’re younger still,” festival director Andrew Partridge tells us. “My, how time flies when you’re stressing about running a festival!”
Regularly showcasing the best new animation from Japan, alongside restorations of established classics and the occasional live-action adaptation of an anime or video game, the festival has gone from strength to strength in terms of audience, reach, influence and programming coups. What was once just a relatively modest attempt to get more Scottish cinema showings for anime – that aren’t just from Studio Ghibli – has become one of the key European animation events on the calendar…
Full feature for The Skinny
2019 marked my seventh trip to the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Something I’ve always appreciated about its commitment to new British cinema – and not just through its Michael Powell Award competition – is that it provides a platform for more idiosyncratic examples of independent British cinema that may struggle to get a launch at the grander London Film Festival. And while it’s faced competition from the rising Glasgow Film Festival for specifically Scotland-focused fiction and nonfiction, Edinburgh has always launched interesting fare from across the increasingly divided United Kingdom – from Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) to Matt Palmer’s Calibre (2018), to name but two recent personal favourites.
That said, not every year can be a vintage one when you take a chance on lots of relatively unproven talent, and my experience of this year’s British line-up was that while the pick-ups from overseas A-list festivals were mostly solid to very good (the Toronto-premiering British folk horror Gwen, now opening in UK cinemas, stood tall), the festival’s own finds were underwhelming so far as the fiction films went…
Full feature for Sight & Sound
Take the captivating Spanish lead (Laia Costa) of the single-take German wonder Victoria, the breakout star of God’s Own Country (Josh O’Connor), and a BAFTA-nominated writer-director of acclaimed shorts (Harry Wootliff), and you have Only You, a romantic drama that makes some of the most vibrant use of Glasgow as a cinematic setting in recent memory.
Following a shared taxi-based meet cute, Elena and Jake start a passionate relationship that turns into something long-term. Ominous signs are afloat, though. Elena, nearing 40 and nine years older than Jake, is insecure about her age, and their romance struggles under pressure to have kids. Complications with conceiving and the ordeal of fertility treatments don’t always get the most nuanced explorations onscreen, if they’re depicted in depth at all, but Wootliff’s film is an intimate and touching exploration of an issue sometimes still considered taboo.
Ahead of Only You’s world premiere at last year’s London Film Festival, Wootliff and her stars spoke to us about their drama…
Full interview for The Skinny
The Edinburgh International Film Festival, the world’s longest continuously-running film festival and now in its 73rd year, runs between 19 and 30 June. It opens with the European premiere of Boyz in the Wood (2019), which is not a tribute to the late John Singleton but rather a dark, folk horror-influenced comedy set in the Scottish Highlands, from writer-director Ninian Doff. The world premiere of Mrs. Lowry & Son (2019) closes the festival: Adrian Noble’s light-hearted biopic of L.S. Lowry (Timothy Spall) portrays the painter long before he was established as one of the 20th century’s greatest artists, devoted to but frustrated with his bitter mother, Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave).
Beyond the bookend galas, there are many premieres (including world-first screenings of 18 features), discoveries and retrospectives of note. Here are 10 highlights from the packed programme…
Full feature for the BFI
Set in Scotland in 1994, Beats follows two teenage best friends, Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald), heading out for one final night together at an illegal rave before life takes them in different directions. Johnno’s family, encouraged by his de facto stepfather Robert (Brian Ferguson), are due to move to a newly built house in the distant suburbs. Spanner’s prospects, meanwhile, look next to zero in the context of local poverty and his relationship with his abusive criminal brother, Fido (Neil Leiper).
Directed and co-written by Brian Welsh, Beats is adapted from Kieran Hurley’s acclaimed one-man stage show, which presented converging stories in the wake of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act’s impact on rave culture. Section 63 of that act gave law enforcement the power to stop any gatherings of more than 20 people in open air settings when listening to music, “Wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”
There’s an end of an era quality to the film’s portrayal of the 90s scene, and while raving didn’t disappear after 1994, the rest of the decade saw a form of it move into the more corporate club scene, heavy on brand image, where the experience, as influenced by those changes in the law, became more homogenised…
Full interview for the BFI