Salt and saucy

I can’t have been the only person with a wry smile on their kisser when they tuned in to watch the new Rebus last Friday night – and found instead a bunch of sweaty looking footballers with Peaky Blinders haircuts slugging it out for a spot in the Championship Final Play-Off.

And why wry? Because although John Rebus supports Hibernian, the fictional detective’s storied creator Ian Rankin is a fan of the home side in this televised tie – Raith Rovers, who went on to win the game on penalties. It was an odd, but somehow fitting overture to the main event. “If you’ve tuned in for Rebus, it will come,” said the commentator, who can obviously read minds as well as team sheets.

Fittingly, when your correspondent visited Rankin in his Edinburgh office in 2021 it was the morning after another famous Raith Rovers victory. And, yes, there was some football chat then over coffee and biscuits.

Under discussion that day was The Dark Remains, which Rankin had written based on a rough manuscript left by William McIlvanney on his death in 2015. Since then Rankin has returned to the world of Rebus – which is to say to the streets of Edinburgh, which are Rebus’s beat – with A Heart Full Of Headstones and Midnight And Blue, respectively novels 24 and 25 in the sequence. The second of those will be published in October.

And now we also have the third iteration of Rebus for the small screen. After outings featuring John Hannah and Ken Stott, Rutherglen-born Outlander star Richard Rankin (no relation) has stepped into the famous shoes. And famous they are by now. When at least three different actors have played the same role, you know the character in question has ascended to the pantheon of detective fiction greats. Think Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Jules Maigret, Hercules Poirot etc.

The Herald:
This Rebus is darker in tone. Saucier too. The man himself is younger and re-imagined, a “quiet Jambo” now rather than a Hibee. If writer Gregory Burke has been asked to ensure every episode has a scene set on either Victoria Street or Cockburn Street he is going about his work with admirable enthusiasm – though given the exorbitant cost of city centre property we’ll take as literary licence the fact that Rebus can afford a flat so close to The Vennel, with its Instagram-tastic view of the Castle.

There are also in-jokes and ‘Easter eggs’ scattered throughout. Is Michael Rebus’s home address of Keir Hardie Drive a nod to Gargarin Way in Lumphinnans, also the title of Burke’s debut play? Are there further nods to Black Watch, Burke’s 2006 smash-hit? Was it in the Oxford Bar that Rebus left a pint and a whisky chaser untouched after a call from his nemesis, Ger Cafferty?

For more on the Rebus re-boot, check out this opening night review by The Herald’s TV critic Alison Rowat.

Is this a remix I see before me?

Ian Rankin’s fellow Fifer and crime writer Val McDermid has joined the select group of authors commissioned by Edinburgh publisher Birlinn to write a novella based on characters or incidents from Scottish history.

The series is known as the Darkland Tales and to date we’ve had Denise Mina on Mary I’s studly Italian ‘favourite’ David Rizzio (Rizzio); Jenni Fagan on the notorious 16th century North Berwick witch trials (Hex); playwright David Greig taking on an episode from the tumultuous history of Iona in the 9th century (Columba’s Bones); and Alan Warner on Charles Edward Stuart’s travails in the aftermath of the Battle Of Culloden in 1746 (Nothing Left To Fear From Hell).

Now McDermid has written Queen Macbeth, which takes Shakespeare’s scheming spouse as a starting point of sorts but then turns on its head a story which is already a little light on facts – the playwright based his Macbeth on Holinshed’s Chronicles, which aren’t exactly the last word in historical accuracy.

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Macbeth was real, though, and so was his wife, one Gruoch ingen Boite. And yes, she did become queen when her husband violently took the crown from Duncan I in 1040. In McDermid’s version, Gruoch is on the run with three companions – wonder who they could be? – and the author has placed her squarely in 11th century Scotland rather than in some 16th century theatrical facsimile of it. You can read Rosemary Goring’s review of it here.

Another female creator remixing Macbeth to look at it from the distaff point of view is playwright Zinnie Harris, whose award-winning Macbeth (An Undoing) has now returned to Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre for an 11 night run after acclaimed tours to London and New York. Imagine a Cecil Beaton photo shoot re-imagined by Italian horror director Dario Argento.

The Herald:
“If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended,” says a bloodied soldier at one point, a line which Shakespeare fans will know comes from a different play entirely. It’s emblematic of what Harris does in a work which cleverly shifts perspectives, plays with gender and gender stereotypes – and gives the three weird sisters a pleasingly hefty role. As for the play itself, it’s pleasingly meta, finds Herald theatre critic Neil Cooper. You can read his five star review here.

And finally

It’s 30 years this month since a little British film called Shallow Grave screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The reviews were good and the film was a critical and commercial success when it was released theatrically in early 1995.

So far, so what. Well, Shallow Grave did more than just bring Caledonian Neo-noir to UK cinemas – it energised the Scottish film industry, and as well as launching the careers of actor Ewan McGregor, director Danny Boyle and producer Andrew Macdonald (who together would go on to make the iconic Trainspotting) it’s a sort Year Zero for an extraordinary run of Scottish films which blazed through the late 1990s and early Noughties and brought talents like Peter Mullan, Lynne Ramsay and David McKenzie to world cinema’s top table. Aftersun director Charlotte Wells is just the latest, but in many ways it all goes back to Alex, David and Juliet sitting in that huge Edinburgh flat with a bag of stolen money at their feet. You can read my story of the making of the film here.

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Elsewhere, The Herald’s critics have been as busy as always. Neil Cooper has also been to Glasgow’s Tron Theatre to see Dead Girls Rising, a feminist fable backed by a Riot Grrrl soundtrack, while at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall Keith Bruce heard works by Rachmaninov and Liszt performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the baton of well-liked Partick Hahn, newly appointed Principal Guest Conductor. Might he be the man for the Music Director role when it comes vacant in two years time?