Top 10 Scottish Films

#10 – Red Road

Andrea Arnold, though not Scottish by birth, is an honorary Scot in my eyes due to Red Road, her first feature film and winner of the 2006 Cannes Jury Prize. Set at the Red Road flats in Barmulloch, Glasgow (a notoriously violent area), the film follows Jackie, a CCTV security operator, who starts following a man she sees on the monitor. She becomes dangerously obsessed with him, to the point where she befriends him and then seduces him in his house. It is only in the shocking finale that the truth behind her obsession is revealed.


#9 – Gregory’s Girl/Gregory’s Two Girls

Gregory’s Girl (1981) is a true Scottish classic. This coming-of-age romantic comedy sees football loving Gregory (John Sinclair) develop a crush on Dorothy, a new team player. He awkwardly asks her on a date, but on the date Dorothy pawns him off on her friend Susan. As it turns out, Susan had wanted to date Gregory all along, but needed the help of her friends. In the end Gregory prefers Susan to Dorothy anyway, and they kiss on her doorstep-how romantic! In sequel Gregory’s Two Girls, which was made 18 years later, we meet up with Gregory (the same actor) as an adult, and see that he is still having trouble with the ladies. Adorable as ever, director Bill Forsyth shows us that it’s not all doom and gloom in Scottish cinema.


#8 – The Wicker Man

Made in 1973, The Wicker Man instantly became a classic horror film in cinema history, and has been called “the Citizen Kane of horror movies” by Cinefantastique, as well as being ranked sixth greatest British film of all time by Total Film. It is horror of the best kind; quiet, unassuming and then utterly terrifying.
The story of Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), who visits the island of Summerisle due to reports of a missing schoolgirl called Rowan. People in the town claim they have never heard of Rowan, and when Howie finds a grave bearing her name, he discovers it to hold the body of a hare. When the truth is revealed that Rowan is to be sacrificed to the Gods, Howie runs to her rescue, only to be captured himself and burnt alive in a giant wicker man. The film’s mass appeal comes from Christopher Lee, who plays the cult leader, and the horrible realisation that the policeman will never escape. There is no happy ending.


#7 – Trainspotting

Trainspotting is one of the most successful Scottish set films ever made. Thanks be to Danny Boyle for making it back in 1996, and showing people that Edinburgh is a vibrant metropolitan city, albeit one rife with heroin addicts. The film, an adaptation of the novel by Irvine Welsh, follows a group of heroin addicts as they try to kick the habit and go clean. For Renton (a skinny Ewan McGregor) it is not easy going cold turkey and he has strange hallucinations. As for his friends, Spud, Sickboy and Begbie, they are struggling for money, and plan one massive drug deal to end their financial problems.
The film was marketed as a ‘British Pulp Fiction‘ and did gain a cult following, although all the accents in the film were so strongly Scottish that the film had to be subtitled in America. Ewan McGregor did consider injecting heroin to fully experience what his character was going through, but eventually decided against it.


#6 – Local Hero

Despite all efforts to avoid having two films by the same director in the list, Local Hero is another of Bill Forsyth’s great films and is thoroughly worthy of a mention of its own. It stars Peter Riegert (from The Sopranos) as a businessman sent to Scotland to get permission to build an oil refinery. He is taken in by the townspeople and shown the warmth of the community and, you guessed it, is persuaded to stop plans to build on the site. Comedy comes from a young Peter Capaldi (who you may know as Malcolm Tucker) and Burt Lancaster.


#5 – Neds

Recently released in 2010, NEDS (non-educated delinquents) shot to the top of most people’s radars due to its massive advertising campaign. Although it is set in 1970s Glasgow, much of the story could easily be set in present day due to its continued relevance. Ned culture is a big part of Glasgow’s history, and though some would say it only refers to the city’s petty criminals, understanding gang culture is an important part of understanding the city’s youths. The film’s director, Peter Mullan, used his own experiences of growing up in Peterhead, Scotland, in a Catholic family and being surrounded by violence and alcohol abuse. His first full-length film, Orphans, is a black comedy set in Glasgow, and follows a family preparing for a funeral.


#4 – Ratcatcher

Glasgow-born Lynne Ramsay is currently one of Scotland’s greatest filmmakers. This is largely due to her most recent film, We Need To Talk About Kevin, which won the Best Film prize at the London Film Festival in 2011. However, it is not Scottish. Her earlier (short) films like Small Deaths and Gasman have both won Cannes Jury Prizes, in 1996 and 1998, and her first feature film, Ratcatcher (1999), won her numerous awards too.
Its set in a housing scheme under re-development, which has no hot running water or indoor toilet. Despite its bleak surroundings, Ratcatcher shows the innocence and playfulness of children and is a joy to watch. In one memorable scene, the children tie a mouse to a balloon by its tail and it floats away. It has a very delicate balance of the beautiful and the cruel. See also, Morvern Callar, which stars Samantha Morton as the girlfriend of a man who has committed suicide. Cheery stuff!


#3 – Young Adam

Young Adam (2003) is the most suspenseful and compelling thriller of these top 10. It is also another film from Ewan McGregor’s heyday, where he plays Joe, a drifter working on a barge on the River Clyde. He begins to have an affair with the wife (Tilda Swinton) of his boss (Peter Mullan) but she becomes very protective of him and he feels caged. A dead woman is found and Joe pretends to know nothing about it, but he knows more than he is willing to admit. The film was Scottish director David McKenzie’s second film and was given the Best Film prize from Bafta in 2003.


#2 – The Angels’ Share

There are many great films from Ken Loach set in Scotland, although he himself is not Scottish by birth. Sweet Sixteen, Carla’s Song, Ae Fond Kiss (named after a Burns poem), and My Name is Joe should all be included in this top 10 for their contribution to Scottish cinema, but since The Angels’ Share is his most recent, it makes the list here. The film was a massive box office success in Scotland, and its story of the plot to steal a bottle of whisky worth over £1 million inspired many cinemas to host ‘whiskey film nights’ which gained a popular reception. As for Loach, who turned down an OBE in 1977, his social realist directing style and treatment of issues such as homelessness and social rights, are well suited to Scottish politics, although they rarely paint a ‘tourist-friendly’ picture of Scotland.


#1 – Brigadoon

No list would be complete without a celebration for all the faux-Scots films that have been released over the years. Films like Brigadoon (1954), starring no other than Gene Kelly, as an American man lost on a hunting trip in the Scottish highlands who finds a strange town rising out of the mist, where people live as if they were still living 200 years in the past. Hilariously inaccurate, this is a film for all the people who claim to be 1/8 Scottish, or who have seen Braveheart and all five Highlander films and so have seen it all, more or less. In any case, there is something about Mel Gibson in a kilt crying ‘freedom!’, or immortal Scottish swordsman Christopher Lambert being struck by lightening, that will tease out your inner Scot and fill you with the Scottish spirit. And if that doesn’t work, a wee dram of whisky should do the trick.


Let us know your favourite Scottish films below, and Happy Burns Night!


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