I’m sure none of you out their reading this have given much thought—if any—to Scottish film. Well, it’s time you discover that there’s more to it than Brigadoon and Braveheart. Here are ten cinematic offerings from this nation-within-a-nation that you simply must see—and are conveniently available in Region 1 formats.
1. Trainspotting, Danny Boyle, 1996
The adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel that brought international attention to Scottish cinema and made stars of Ewan McGreggor and Robert Carlyle. A story of friendship and betrayal, it deals with addiction, alienation, and AIDS along the way with a good helping of dark humor and surrealism and a killer soundtrack.
2. Gregory’s Girl, Bill Forsyth, 1981
A delightful coming-of-age film about Scottish teens desperate for a date. It might not quite give us the closure we want (Forsyth was over a decade late with the sequel) and the accents are thick, but it is very funny.
3. Ratcatcher, Lynne Ramsay, 1999
A boy growing up in Glasgow’s slums longs to escape to a new housing development in the suburbs while a garbage strike rages and rodents overrun the neighborhood. Ramsay made a bit impression at Cannes with the film, so it’s a bit arty, though not incomprehensible. Although you may not want to turn those subtitles off.
4. Red Road, Andrea Arnold, 2006
A woman uses Glasgow’s CCTV system to track and ensnare a criminal who’s recently been released from prison. Her actions might seem a bit confusing at first, but the film is brilliant in the way it slowly reveals her motives.
5. Shallow Grave, Danny Boyle, 1994
Three flatmates and friends take in a fourth lodger, and when he dies mysteriously with a huge amount of cash on him, they decide to cover it up and keep the money. As their friendship dissolves, the film gets darker and darker, making this film a classic modern thriller.
6. Orphans, Peter Mullan, 1998
A dysfunctional family nearly unravels after their mother dies, and during her vigil, each of the four siblings has a wild night that ultimately brings them closer together. I’m not entirely sure if this was overly melodramatic or an extremely dry dark comedy, but it was pretty funny.
7. Rob Roy, Michael Canton-Jones, 1995
The legendary Highlander (no, not The Highlander) has to defend his family and his honor against an evil English aristocrat who’s set him up to take the fall from his own crimes. Though it hardly resembles Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Rob Roy nevertheless has some great action, beautiful scenery, and one of the greatest sword fights of all time.
8. Young Adam, David Mackenzie, 2003
A young man working on a barge on the River Clyde has an affair with his boss’s wife, and through flashbacks we see his relationship with a young woman whose body was pulled out of the water at the beginning of the film. Young Adam is a rewarding viewing experience, though both the temporal shifts and the main character’s sexism can make it difficult to watch at times.
9. Morvern Callar, Lynne Ramsay, 2002
A young woman’s boyfriend commits suicide, leaving her a mix tape and a request to get his novel published. So she does—putting her own name on it instead—and takes the money and her best friend off to Spain. Another art film, it’s a little bit more dense than Ratcatcher, but the great tunes on the mix tape help the viewer get into the main character’s head.
10. The Bill Douglas Trilogy: My Childhood, My Ain Folk, My Way Home; 1972, 1973, 1978
Director Douglas made these three autobiographical films on an extremely low budget provided by the BFI. Cheap looking, barely feature length, and very arty, they won’t be for everyone, but they are very important films in the development of both Scottish national cinema and British art cinema.