IT’S all too easy to lose track of many of the quirky, moving, interesting films that have been shot in Scotland over the years. Some of the sparkling gems on these pages attracted decent reviews upon release before fading from view; others slipped under most people’s radar. The 10 films here are funny, or dark, or insightful. All have something to say; all are worth tracking down, and watching, whether it’s for the first time, or the first time since they were released.


(Director, Alan Rickman; 1997)

A wintry Fife landscape sets the tone for Alan Rickman’s sombre, well-observed directorial debut. It opens with Phyllida Law making her way to her daughter’s home; the daughter is grieving the recent loss of her husband, and her mother fears that she will move to Australia. As the two women try to come to terms with their relationship, the mother-daughter dynamic is conveyed with biting accuracy by Law and her real-life daughter, Emma Thompson.

Thompson lives with her son (Gary Hollywood), who is drawn to an alluring young woman (Arlene Cockburn). Also weaving in and out of the story are two funeral junkies (Sheila Reid and Sandra Voe) and two young schoolkids (Douglas Murphy and Sean Biggerstaff).

The film was scripted by Rickman and playwright Sharman MacDonald from the latter’s play. Critics found much to admire in it, even if the reception was not one of unqualified admiration; but for me the verdict by Andy Dougan in our sister paper, the Evening Times, rings true: “It’s a quiet, unprepossessing gem of a film which arrives largely unheralded and wins you over with its intelligence, poignancy and sheer compassion”.


(Director, Michael Hoffman; 1985)

“Two Central Belt neds tackle the problem of unemployment by turning to highway robbery”, is how Bruce Watson, of Scots group, Big Country, described this mid-eighties comedy. Big Country supplied the soundtrack, and very good it is, too.

Joe Mullaney and Vincent Friell play two Edinburgh lads who decide that the best way of getting money is by donning clown and wolfman masks and relieving coachloads of tourists of their money as their coaches wend their weigh through the Southern Highlands. Their weapon: a toy gun laden with itching powder and curry powder.

But one of their first victims, a CIA agent on holiday (played by Ned (‘Deliverance’) Beatty) takes a close interest in the case and in pursing the duo.

“There’s plenty of charm in the light-hearted tale of two amateur, tourist-bus-heisting highwaymen ... who become folk heroes, and its cheerful disdain for outsiders (namely tourists) gives it a quirky parochial edge”, said Empire film magazine. “The narrative wanes and moral issues are side-stepped, but likeable performances, those rolling Caledonian hills and a jubilant tone make this as sweet as it is slight”.


(Director, Peter Mullan; 1999)

“It’s dark. It’s about grief. It’s weird – I always wanted it to be, and I still think it is, a democratic comedy. The audience can decide what bits to laugh at and what bits they’re not going to laugh at”.

Thus Peter Mullan, looking back at this brilliant film about the long dark night of the soul suffered by four siblings as they gather for their mother’s funeral. The film struggled to be released; what saved it was its performance at the 1998 Venice Film Festival, where it grabbed a fistful of awards.

Gary Lewis, Douglas Henshall, Stephen McCole and Rosemarie Stevenson are superb as the siblings. “A tough mix of searing drama and black comedy, an imaginative, sometimes surreal account of lives so afflicted by boozily confused, aggressive self-assertiveness that there seems little room left for mercy, hope or compassion” – Time Out.


(Director: Don Coutts; 2003)

The year after this film was released, it was voted third in a poll to find the public’s favourite Scottish film; it finished just behind Trainspotting and Gregory’s Girl.

Gerald Lepkowski is a mild-mannered fish-and-chip shop bloke in Glasgow whose peaceable routine is disrupted by the arrival of two sinister American cousins – Danny Nucci and Den Hedaya, mobsters who, for pressing reasons, need to make themselves scarce. “The Americans are smart-suited, smooth-talking wiseguys who fear nothing and no one”, said scriptwriter Sergio Casci. Their Scots-Italian cousin Roberto is less smart, less smooth and collects stamps.

Russell Hunter and Shirley Henderson also star in this fish-out-of-water comedy, in which some critics discerned traces of Bill Forsyth. “A sly and self-assured dramatic comedy” – Variety. In the verdict of Time Out, the film showed that “likeable performances and the odd amusing set-piece ... can, in the right circumstances, prove winning”.


(Director, David Mackenzie; 2006)

Jamie Bell is the troubled young man with voyeuristic tendencies who has been grieving the death of his mother, in an apparent drowning; but he comes to wonder, was his new stepmother (Claire Forlani) somehow complicit in her death?

Bell, at length, begins a new life in Edinburgh, where from a rooftop he chances upon a young woman (Sophia Myles), the spitting image of his mother when she was younger. He pursues her, and talks her into giving him a job at the hotel where she works. And suddenly, Bell’s life veers in a whole new direction.

Director Mackenzie is never less than interesting: witness his other films, from Young Adam and the prison drama Starred Up to the action thriller, Hell or High Water.

Said Variety: “Tip-top performances ... and a deftly handled tone reflecting all the title teen’s confused emotions make Hallam Foe a viewing delight”. Said the Sunday Herald: “Original, exciting, brimming with confidence and a pitch-perfect sense of setting, Hallam Foe ... speaks to the best in Scottish-British film-making”


(Director: Paul Wright; 2013)

Actor George MacKay, Vanity Fair said recently, has Hollywood “in the palm of his hand”, and is “Britain’s New Leading Man in Demand”, on the back of his performances in Captain Fantastic, the Oscar-winning 1917 and The True History of the Kelly Gang.

A few years before these films, he took the lead role in Paul Wright’s strikingly original tale of a young man, the sole survivor of a fishing-boat accident, who is ostracised by the increasingly hostile local community.

His character, Aaron, believes that his brother, who was among those who died in the accident at sea, is still alive, and, maddened by grief, sets out to find him.

The film, a hit at Cannes, was shot in Gourdon, in Aberdeenshire, features Kate Dickie as Aaron’s mother.

“Although it’s a very Scottish film, it does have themes in it that hopefully do translate around the world”, Wright told the BBC in 2013. “We aren’t kidding ourselves that we have made a commercial blockbuster but it was always important that people who did connect with it, really connected with it.”

“This lightly experimental psycho-thriller mixes social realism with magical realism, brooding human tragedy with arty abstraction”, said The Hollywood Reporter.


(Director: Scott Graham; 2013)

Chloe Pirrie’s breakthrough as an actor came in this engrossing tale of a young woman who, long ago abandoned by her mother, lives with her quiet father, Pete (Joseph Mawle) in a petrol station in a remote part of Wester Ross.

Few customers call in. Her father depends on his daughter for company, but she knows there has to be a life for her elsewhere.

Scott Graham got the idea for the film while driving between Glasgow and the north of Scotland. “What emerged in the writing and later in the filming was a sadness to Shell and Pete’s life at the petrol station that people sometimes mistake for emptiness. In fact their life there is extremely rich in terms of history but it’s a sad history and everything about the world they share seems to reflect their loss”.

“A hushed and haunting coming-of-age drama”: The Guardian.


(Director: Bertrand Tavernier; 1979)

Harvey Keitel stars in this absorbing “sci-fi noir”, shot partly in Glasgow (and how interesting it is to see that cityscape in its late 1970s guise).

Keitel is a journalist who, courtesy of a voyeuristic TV programme, has a camera implanted in his eye; by such means he can record the final days of an unwitting woman (Romy Schneider) with an incurable illness.

As Philip French noted in the Observer eight years ago: “Her final hours are transmitted to a society where death has been largely obliterated, but poverty and suffering remain. It’s an exciting tale about self-respect and personal autonomy in a society where privacy and personal identity are being steadily eroded and it’s as topical today as when it was made”.


(Director: Scott Graham; 2016)

Ruth Negga excels as a woman with a troubled past who, accompanied by her son (Ben Gallacher), returns to the island she was named after, an island she left as a teenager.

Gradually, amidst the silences and the traditional way of life still evident on the island, we learn more about Iona’s personal story, and the reason she left in the first place.

Douglas Henshall, who co-stars, told The Herald that the film “is about violence against women, it’s about faith, and one of the themes explored is redemption. Iona is looking for it for herself and, of course, her son”.

As Little White Lies observed, “The speed of the story reflects the speed of life on the island, placing the rugged beauty of the setting front-and-centre as the narrative becomes increasingly bleak”.


(Director, Tim Barrow; 2011)

Extensive use is made of Edinburgh locations in Tim Barrow’s shot-on-a-shoestring tale of loss, loneliness and redemption. Barrow and Vivien Reid play people each coming to terms in their own way with agonising loss, and who come together, briefly, following a mugging in the city’s Anchor Close. Will they get back together, as we hope they will, and as they deserve to?

The film, pictured above, was shot in just 17 days. Excellent soundtrack,