Returning to Leith after a tour of Afghanistan, Davy (MacKay) and Ally (Guthrie) adapt to civilian life, Davy hooking up with nurse Yvonne (Thomas), Ally planning marriage to Davy’s sister, Liz (Mavor). Meanwhile Davy’s dad Rab (Mullan) is hiding a secret from his wife, Jean (Horrocks).
It’s a hard heart that doesn’t warm to Sunshine On Leith. A jukebox musical by Stephen Greenhorn built around the back catalogue of bespectacled twins The Proclaimers — the soundtrack has the one about walking 500 miles and 12 less popular songs — Dexter Fletcher’s directorial follow-up to Wild Bill delivers an upbeat tale of young love, old secrets, thwarted dreams and supporting Hibs.
Fletcher of course appeared in Bugsy Malone (“I’m Baby Face”), and he imports some of the spirit of Alan Parker’s musical here. Bravely the movie opens with squaddies in Afghanistan singing in tight close-up that effectively gets you over the it’s-a-musical bump, with Fletcher subsequently staging the numbers (an exuberant pub sing-song, a museum number with Jason Flemyng going full Brosnan-in-Mamma Mia!) with direct, unpretentious simplicity. But his biggest asset is his cast. Doing the pre-recorded thing rather than the live Les Mis thing, the winning four young leads attack the songs with infectious enthusiasm, while Peter Mullan and Jane Horrocks add moving colours.
When it moves away from its musical numbers, the film feels less certain, falling into soap-opera shenanigans around rejected marriage proposals, long-lost daughters and plot-changing heart attacks. The Proclaimers’ song-writing also offers tougher insights into bruised masculinity, call-centre banality and Scottish identity than this wants to grant them — it’s a film with a decidedly soft centre. Still, by the time we get to the finale, inevitably set to the aforementioned signature anthem — on disc a shout-y stomper; here a Glee flash mob — you’ve already succumbed to Fletcher’s peculiarly Scottish romantic streak. Not bad for a North London boy.
It may lack the subtleties and emotional wallop of a lo-fi musical like Once, but Sunshine On Leith delivers a bright, cheery, big-hearted smile of a movie. If it’s a huge hit, expect SingalongaRunrig at an IMAX near you.
Reviewed by Ian Freer