Film Review: Sunshine on Leith (2013)

“If I get drunk, well I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who gets drunk next to you”

The idea of a Proclaimers jukebox musical is not one that appealed when I first heard of it and so Sunshine on Leith was hardly on my list of films to see when Stephen Greenhorn’s musical was made into a film by Dexter Fletcher last year. But one of the lead actors George MacKay caught my attention in The Cement Garden a couple of months ago and reading in the programme that he had won awards for his performance, I decided to give it a whirl.

And as is often the case when expectations are low, I ended up absolutely adoring it. It may be jukebox in form but I’d wager most people – myself included – would be hard pressed to name more than two songs by the bespectacled brothers (who make a neat early cameo) and so there’s a real freshness to the score, a vibrancy that is essentially Scottish but ultimately universal in its celebration of the quirkiness of life and the emotions that govern us all.

The plot is refreshingly simple – Ally and Davy, two boyhood friends, return from serving in Afghanistan and struggle to readjust to life and love in Edinburgh. Ally decides to propose his girlfriend Liz, Davy’s sister, but she has itchy feet and Davy is introduced to Liz’s English colleague Yvonne with whom he strikes up a relationship and we follow their respective ups and downs with many a song in our collective hearts and the sweetest of souls.

Fletcher’s film is beautifully warm-hearted and unashamedly emotional. From the opening moments of squaddie camaraderie to its closing flash-mob rowdiness, it charms its way along most effectively. George MacKay and Kevin Guthrie are hugely appealing as Davy and Ally, Antonia Thomas and Freya Mavor well-suited as their respective paramours, and Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullan work brilliantly together in a subplot as Davy’s parents. 

Sunshine on Leith never gets too cheesy either, at least for me, and I was completely absorbed into the whole film. So much so that when one character receives a written communication from Florida, I was surprised at the song that they then sang was ‘Letter From America’! The pub singalong ‘Over and Done With’ is probably my favourite song for its chirpiness although the slow build-up of ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ is just gorgeous, the unexpected harmonies before the mass pile-in of the finale a wonderful reminder of the transcendental power of musicals. Now who is going to put the show on in London? 

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