Smaller and more parochial in scale and story, it does bear some similarity to the Abba musical but free of “Mamma Mia!”’s exotic fantasy of glamour and wish fulfilment, the tortuous wrangling of the plot to fit the available songs is markedly less forced and obvious. While The Proclaimers may not have the instantly recognisable back catalogue of Abba, you’ll recognise more than you might expect, and not just the big three that everybody knows.
“Sunshine On Leith” springs a surprise beginning, opening not in Scotland but on the front lines of Afghanistan, introducing us to squaddies Davey and Ally. After a foreboding and surprisingly tense rendition of “Sky Takes The Soul”, the action flashes forward two months and settles its focus on Davey’s family: Mum Jean (played gamely and accentedly by Jane Horrocks), Dad Rab (Peter Mullen) and Sister Liz (Freya Mavor) who also happens to be Ally’s girlfriend. There’s a delightful cameo from The Proclaimers themselves at the start of the film but from that point on, the fourth wall remains firmly in place. The joy of the soldier’s homecoming coincides with Jean and Rab’s 25th Wedding Anniversary and all seems set for family bliss as Davey meets and hits it off with Liz’s nursing colleague Yvonne (a charming Antonia Thomas leaving her brassy “Misfits” character far behind).
However, the course of a true musical never runs smoothly and “Sunshine On Leith” is no exception. Each of the couples are confronted with a different dilemma, neatly splitting the action between past (Jean And Rab), present (Davey and Yvonne) and future (Liz and Ally). In a way, there are echoes of the struggles of present day Scotland itself in the crises faced by the characters but any such commentary is subtle and fleeting. In fact, despite the involvement of the war in Afghanistan, “Sunshine On Leith” is refreshingly free of ‘chip on the shoulder’ political or social commentary and the proceedings are kept light and airy at all times, putting this firmly in the uplifting, feel-good movie category.
There are times where some of the supporting characters are a little underdeveloped and some exchanges hint at more complex and rich back stories which are never explored and in all it feels like it went through less of a polishing than “Mamma Mia!” did when making its way from stage to screen.
Dexter Fletcher does an admirable job as director, keeping the pace brisk without making things feel rushed. He manages to make it feel cinematic while still maintaining the small and intimate feeling which supports the story. The real ace up his sleeve is the city of Edinburgh itself which photographs beautifully and looks simply stunning as a backdrop, giving the proceedings a richness and solidity it might otherwise lack. I do wonder, though, if it’s not quite starry enough to gain traction with the wider public outside of Scotland.
Though you might come out feeling that, for a musical, it fails to deliver the appropriate happy ending for every character, it closes on a rousing, “Grease”-esque song and dance number that looks like it might have been filmed using a mixture of the cast and dancers with members of the public and is every bit as chaotic and joyous as that sounds. It’s almost a certainty that you’ll be singing to yourself as you leave the cinema.
A bit of a dual score for this one: I’ve given it an official Craggus score but, if you have any Scottish roots, you can add an extra point because you might find yourself pining for home, just a little.