Allan Laing speaks to director Paul Murton about the haunting

background to his sombre and highly effective new television film, The

Blue Boy

SCOTTISH screenwriter and director Paul Murton swears blind on a stack

of Bibles that the following story is true. And, on that basis, who are

we to doubt him?

Some years ago, while on location on the Cowal Peninsula for his

highly acclaimed Film School graduation movie Tin Fish, the young

film-maker was looking at the rushes of a scene shot outside the Coylet

Hotel on the shores of Loch Eck. It involved a wee boy, lost on a boat

at night, who falls into the water and drowns.

''When I looked at the rushes there was this strange, inexplicable

blue fog around the film. I asked the cameraman if he knew what it was

and he hadn't a clue,'' recalled 35-year-old Murton.

''A couple of days later I was talking to the hotelier about it and he

mentioned the Blue Boy. This, he said, was a young child who had been on

holiday with his parents in the hotel and he had been sleepwalking

during the night. He had strayed outside, fallen into the loch, and

drowned. When they found his body it was blue with the cold.''

From this tragic event a ghostly legend had been created. The child's

spirit was known to wander the hotel, searching in vain for his mother.

''Hotel staff had noticed that things -- like cutlery and plates --

were often out of place for no apparent reason. Perhaps more sinister

than that was the fact that they sometimes found wet footprints upstairs

in the corridor,'' added Murton.

The director looked again at the blue fog around his film and

shuddered. ''It gave me the creeps,'' he said.

Some years later, he became aware of a tiny statue which stands in the

water around the shores of Loch Lomond. It is reputed to be a monument

erected by a grieving father whose son drowned at that very spot. Murton

brought the monument and the ghost story together, added his childhood

friend Emma Thompson for good measure, and came up with The Blue Boy, a

sombre and highly effective television movie made for BBC Scotland.

Filmed around Glasgow and Dunoon, it is a contemporary story about a

couple, Emma Thompson and Adrian Dunbar, who attempt to keep their

marriage alive in the face of an unexpected pregnancy and his

infidelity. They are both haunted by the past and the present -- by the

persistence of the husband's mistress and the century-old ghost of the

Blue Boy who wanders an Argyllshire hotel.

''I love ghost stories,'' said Murton. ''I love that whole tradition

of ghost stories for television. The BBC did a lot of them in the 1970s,

mostly adaptions from the classics. But it was hard trying to integrate

a ghost from the past into contemporary action.''

He was at pains to stress that the film is a television movie and that

it was made reasonably quickly and inexpensively. He was, however,

delighted with the finished product when it was transferred to 35mm.

''What you have to remember, of course, is the fact that people don't

care how a film was made or any of the production details. What they are

interested in is what it looks like and how much they enjoyed it.

''My honest assessment of the film is that some of the performances

are very good but some of it could have been better written. I would

give it a B-plus.''

If there is one criticism which could justly be levelled at The Blue

Boy it is perhaps that the three principal characters, all Scots, are

played by non-Scottish actors (Thompson, Dunbar, and Eleanor Bron)

albeit with exceptionally convincing West of Scotland accents. Is this

simply a sad reflection on Scotland's acting talent?

''Not really, I only had 12 days in which to cast the film. And at

that time there were a lot of other films in production in Scotland. It

was also still the pantomime season. So the problem was that all the

Scottish talent was already signed up. I always intended it to be as

Scottish as possible but it was very difficult to do that in the end,''

explained Murton.

No matter who was available, Emma Thompson was always going to be the

writer-director's first choice for the leading role. The pair were

childhood chums in Dunoon and the actress starred in Tin Fish.

Murton is now involved in a number of writing projects and has a

peripatetic role for BBC Scotland's Gaelic and Features department. He

has been asked to develop children's drama serials for Queen Margaret

Drive's forthcoming role as the Beeb's main non-London outlet for

children's television.

''It is an area which really interests me. I want to work with writers

who are perhaps better known for their adult material and asking them to

come up with stories for six half-hour episodes -- children's thrillers,

ghost stories, and science fiction,'' he added.

* The Blue Boy. Cameo 1, Thursday 8.30, Filmhouse 1. Friday 2.15.