My first short film was called ROTA, which I made at Middlesex Polytechnic. Shot in 16mm, black and white, it was an apocalyptical tale, starring Jimmy Nelson, an old friend from art school, and Francesca, my wife. A man returns to the ruins of a world where no man has walked for generations, only to find love. It is a story of eternal return and was influenced by Chris Marker’s LA JETÉE.
The opening sequence has a shot of a very young Anish Kapoor in costume, then a student at Hornsey Art School. Along with a flute player called Tom (he was a Morris Dancer I recall), I wrote the music and performed it on mandolin. I then ran the score backwards and cut it up into an abstract shape which I thought intriguing, like a Kurosawa movie.
I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a film festival at that time. It was shown once on an ancient projector to a large band of African drummers I knew but the film was very solemn and dark and northern European. The projector chewed the film up and the drummers, feeling sorry for me, gave me a very hearty African applause.
My next short was made at the National Film School, starring my writing tutor, Shane Connaughton, who went on to write THE PLAYBOYS, which I directed, and who co-wrote MY LEFT FOOT. It was called HERE HE COMES, based upon a real incident in a Cambridge bedsit years before.
My National Film School graduation film was PASSING GLORY. I wrote and directed it and it was produced by my brother, Billy MacKinnon, the first of our collaborations.
Set in Glasgow, it described the relationship between an unemployed teenage girl and her communist grandmother who drove an ambulance in the Spanish Civil War. On the old woman’s death, the communist party and the conservative parental generation fall out shabbily, so the girl and her boyfriend hyjack the coffin and give the old lady a Viking funeral on Loch Lomond.
I’m proud to say that this was the first film role for Alan Cumming who was then studying drama in Glasgow. It won two awards, which helped, and Channel Four bought the film. The money went to the film school, which seemed a good way of thanking the school – for I myself was skint at the time.
When I left film school I spent two years co-writing a comedy with Shane Connaughton, called FRENCH KISSES, for Malcolm Craddock at Picture Palace Productions, a madcap love story between a French girl and a Scottish boy. I also wrote GREENYARDS for Jam Jar Films, based upon an incident during the highland clearances in 19th century Scotland. Both these films nearly got made, but did not in the end.
Being a first time director can be a hurdle to overcome with financiers. I decided not to get stuck in too much ambitious ‘development’ and to find a film to direct as soon as possible.
With Malcolm Craddock of Picture Palace I directed A CLOSE SHAVE, one of Channel Four’s Four on four series. A man is getting shaved with a cut throat razor in a 50′s barber shop. He suddenly realises that the barber is the husband of the woman with whom he is having an affair. And the barber has the razor in his hands. Four minutes long, it was like doing a strip cartoon. The first cut was about fifteen minutes. The first thing to go was the tracking shot, then Xavier Russell (the editor) had to chip away until we lost another ten minutes. That was an interesting lesson.
Then I directed SOMEBODY’S WEE NOBODY for Jacobite Films, a fifteen minute film about teenage pregnancy shot on video, using a non-professional cast. They paid me £150, but that wasn’t the point -I was getting behind a camera. To our astonishment, the film won a Golden Bear at the Chicago Film Festival. I never saw the award of course.
CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE
My first feature was CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE for Gareth Wardell’s Jam Jar Films, from a play by the German writer, Manfred Karge.
It was an eccentric proposition, dense in dialogue, about unemployed teenagers in Edinburgh who go on a symbolic journey to the South Pole, a trek through cafes and over city walls, which finally tears the group apart, though they never leave Edinburgh.
It had an early appearance by Ewen Bremner, playing Penguin, forecasting his later role in TRAINSPOTTING. Karin Bamborough visited the cutting room and bought it for Channel 4, which saved my bacon. I will be forever grateful.
George Faber was a producer working his way up through the BBC. He liked my films and we went for a coffee. He predicted we would make a film together and two years later, when George had risen through the system, he put me together with Jimmy McGovern. NEEDLE was Jimmy’s first feature length BBC drama. It told the story of a young heroin addict, starring Sean McKee and Pete Postlethwaite, backed up a superb young cast of Liverpool actors. Jimmy is our most passionate writer and it was obvious back then that a powerful new voice had emerged. It’s no surprise that he has become our top television writer.
We became so absorbed in drug imagery, distorted faces in spoons etc – images I have since seen many times, but had not back then. I learned that it is really not hard to put a camera together with drugs and create something compelling. As usual, I think the strength of a story lies in the performance.
I especially loved the central performance from Sean McKee. Jimmy had written a scene where Sean is so busy trying to woo back his wife that he walks into a lamppost. I think we had over a dozen takes trying to perfect this. Sean had to hit the post without seeing it, then hit the deck. It takes a special kind of actor to manage all that convincingly.
This was also my first time working with Pete Posthelwaite, now sadly deceased. We worked together on my next Screen 2 BBC Film THE GRASS ARENA. Pete always injected so much energy on set, contributed powerful character, pathos and humour.
THE GRASS ARENA
I met John Healy, an extraordinary man who would have died fighting over bottles of wine in the park if he had not discovered chess in prison. He gave up drink for chess, won a major tournament, then gave up chess for meditation. At this this point he wrote the novel of his life story, and that was the story of the film. THE GRASS ARENA is the public park, and also the gladiator’s arena where broken nosed winos fight over a bottle of wine.
John Healy’s novel won Autobiography of the Year Award and later became a Penguin Classic. John himself is a one-off – part funny, wise and insightful, part driven by rage. Having given up chess because this middle and upper class world was even more stressful than being with the winos in the park, John ended up devoted to meditation. I once asked him if he is now addicted to meditation. He replied- “Meditation is a good thing to be addicted to.”
I will never forget walking into the rehearsal room and seeing it full of hostile looking actors who actually growled and glared at me as I passed them. I thought “Hell, they hate me. This is going to be a disaster!” It soon sunk in that they were all in character, playing freaked out, murderous winos. Really, it was nothing personal.
Casting Mark Rylance in the role of John Healy and Pete Postlethwaite as the Dipper was a perfect match and formed the core of the film. I especially remember D0P Rex Maidment, a small and amusing man who shot well and fast and kept us laughing. Every morning he showered the actors with foul mouthed abuse to help them get into character as winos. He and Pete Posthewaite struck a hilariously abusive double act.
Mark Rylance, more than any other actor I have worked with, seemed a kind of shape changer. When we visited John in his Caledonian Road flat, I saw Mark physically and mentally soaking up John’s character. I watched him ‘become’ John Healy. I loved working with Mark. I was very clear how and why scenes were to be constructed – I felt I was building a world believable enough for Mark to inhabit, be in, or burst in upon. Representing John Healy, Mark was the human centre of the film.
THE GRASS ARENA won awards wherever it went and nearly had a cinema release – but (damn it) not quite! I am waiting for the day when someone at the BBC remembers this film and gives it another screening. It was after all Mark Rylance’s first screen appearance.
Writers Shane Connaughton and Kerry Crabbe had both been writing tutors at film school and they fought to persuade the Sam Goldwyn Company to let me direct their film, THE PLAYBOYS. In the end they succeeded and we went to Ireland to tell the story of a group of travelling actors in the 1950s, performing Shakespeare and Irish classics from one village to the next.
Albert Finney was an alcoholic policeman on the wagon. Robin Wright Penn and Aidan Quinn were the love story. I had a lot of respect for Robin, an actress who really thought through what she wanted to do and was uncomfortable with more than three takes. Aidan was great as the young Irish Romeo, a genuinely nice man, unspoiled by stardom.
Albert Finney is a true gentleman. Before we started he took me to one side and offered some advice. I thanked him. He said “That’s okay. It’s your first feature film and you need all the help you can get.” And he meant it, it was a generous gesture. Albert had the amazing ability to memorise the names of the whole crew and all the local villagers. This ability to treat everyone with respect and consideration earned him great affection. One Sunday he hired a coach and took the whole crew to the races. I slept through that event unfortunately. Our night off on the borders of Ireland usually sparked off a party which lasted until dawn.
When we wrapped, Albert Finney was arrested by Shaun, the local policeman. He was arrested for impersonating a policeman and for drinking on duty. The joke ran all the way to the prison cells, where Albert finally put his foot down and demanded an unconditional release.
Sometimes it works to have the writer on set, other times it can cause problems. In this case it was essential. The page count was bigger than the schedule and, many nights, Shane, Kerry and I sat down around midnight working out where we could make cuts on the next day’s schedule. It was like amputation for them, but they didn’t complain. We were like the Three Musketeers.
I found that nobody liked this film better than Hollywood producers and the next year of my life was spent commuting to LA on several developments, none of which happened in the end. But that year was a long learning curve.
A SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE
Steve Martin saw THE PLAYBOYS and invited me to direct a film he had written – A SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE, based upon the novel Silas Marner. This was a great opportunity, not only to work with Steve, but to make a Hollywood movie, with Touchstone Films.
British voices warned me they would make mince meat of me out there and I went into it with my guard up. In fact, they treated me very generously and it was a great experience. The bigger budget allowed a sixty five day shoot. I will never forget my first day on location. The ‘Circus’ (the trailers and trucks) was enormous. I seemed to drive past them for five minutes.
One scene I will never forget was shot under tons of freezing ice and plastic snow, everyone miserable, tired, and caked white. We heard about the death of River Phoenix, a young actor I had always hoped to work with, and somehow life seemed unbelievably stupid and senseless that night. Not long before I had managed to get him to sign photographs of himself addressed to my two children, which had got me into their good books for a while. He had signed them “Love and peace, River Phoenix”.
We cut the film in London, then test screened it around the States. That test screening process seemed endless. I started to commute back to the UK every weekend. In an intense state of jet lag my hair turned grey within two months.
I enjoyed the Hollywood life for a while, but my children were young and I began to suffer intense homesickness. By a swimming pool, I read endless screenplays which had nothing uniquely to do with me – several hundred other directors might make these films. I decided to return and make the film set in Glasgow which my brother and I had been writing together – SMALL FACES.
I was sitting in my garden with Billy, my brother, talking about the extraordinary years in the ’60s when Glasgow life was ruptured by rival gangs. At the time of the hippies and the Paris riots, armed gangs like the Cumbie, the Tongs and the Fleet were meeting in teams of hundreds to fight it out.
We decided to make a film about three brothers, one about to go to art school, one lost in a violent world and the youngest caught between the two. Billy’s tonal reference was MY LIFE AS A DOG. Mine was ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS. We raised a budget of £1.2m, with a thirty day shoot and then hired all the best young actors in Glasgow, many of whom had never been in front of a camera.
I loved this cast. It was truly like a big family and these young actors were ready to do anything for the film. Laura Frazer was studying drama in Glasgow at that time. A year later she was in Hollywood making a film with lsabella Rossellini.
It is always hard to find a young actor for the central role, but we were lucky with lain Robertson, aged fourteen at the time… perfect. The character of Lex had to draw a gangland map with cartoon gang members and I couldn’t find anyone able to do this. Then I remembered that, back in my London, my own daughter, Carla, aged fourteen then, was a good cartoonist. I showed her the film and she drew the caricatures for the map. We paid her £60 – a fortune.
Small Faces won The Michael Powell Award at Edinburgh and the Jury Prize at Rotterdam.
The excellent producer Emma Burge invited me to direct TROJAN EDDIE, written by Billy Roche. It was a beautiful screenplay, sad and poetical. Originally set in his home town Wexford, we had to relocate to Dublin in accordance with the budget. The cast was wonderful -the Irish have great actors. Stephen Rea played perfectly opposite Richard Harris.
I had heard a lot of ominous things about Richard and, though he was always up to mischief and we did have a couple of head-on confrontations (which I quite enjoyed), I liked him immensely and I love his performance as John Power, the Tinker King. Stephen’s character works for him and is under his thumb. The question is – will he ever get free and get the better of him in the end?
One night we shot the scene where John Power (Richard), realising that his young bride has run off with a young tinker on their wedding night, sends his men out to hunt them down. He steps onto the balcony and then (what the hell is he up to???) he melodramatically throws her wedding dress across the railing. Behind me I heard Stephen Rea’s northern Irish voice quip -”This film’s turnin’ into Snow White and the Seven Dwarves!” I took off my headphones and walked up to Richard and said -”Richard, that was very interesting, but…” he cut in – “Try it the other way, yeh?”
Another night I wanted to shoot a bar scene in one long take. Richard took a lot of time getting ready as it was a mass of dialogue to memorise, ending in him swinging a deliberately missed punch at Stephen. We finally went for it. He swung the punch so suddenly and it missed Stephen’s chin by a hair. I could see the startlement in Stephen’s eyes because, if that punch had connected, it would have knocked him out. I went to Richard and said – “Great, we don’t need a second take, that was great, Richard”. He leant across the bar and replied “Yeh, it was a fuckin’ miracle”.
I wish more people had seen this movie. Many people have said to me that it was Richard’s best performance in years. I was very touched when the then young director, Shane Meadows, chose it on Film Four as one of his two favourite films.
Allan Scott wrote the excellent screenplay from Pat Barker’s award winning novel, REGENERATION. Mainly set in a hospital for shellshocked patients during World War One, it tells of the meeting between poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
The doctor and father figure is Dr. Rivers, played beautifully by Jonathan Pryce. His job is to heal these young men, only to return them to the front. I had always felt haunted by this war which seemed to have turned my grandfather into the silent man I knew. It was a dream when Allan Scott, also producer, invited me to deal with this subject.
On a budget of about £3m, Production Designer Andy Harris did a brilliant job. Andy and I have made a lot of movies together. When you find someone as good as this, with whom you share a common language and sensibility, you want to keep working with that person. It was also the first film cut by the brilliant editor Pia Di CiauIa, who has since cut seven of my films.
Jonny Lee Miller gave a passionate performance as Billy Prior. The first night he and Jonathan Pryce worked together I alerted Jonathan to the fact that Jonny was going to be a live wire. They did the first take of a scene where Prior confronts Rivers. I was
disappointed to see that Jonny was tuned way down, as if out of courtesy to the more experienced actor. I reminded him that Pat Barker had written his character to get under the skin of the doctor and father figure. On the second take Jonny came to life like a volcano and I could see the surprise in Jonathan’s eyes. After that they sparked off beautifully together.
This very serious film about traumatised young soldiers, death, loss and poetry did, for some unknown reason, set me off into fits of uncontrollable giggles on several occasions, always in the middle of a take.
Once it was when an officer held a dachshund in his arms which kept farting. I lost it and started to slide off my seat, both hands muffling my face. I just held it together until the end of the scene.
Another time, Jonathan mimed driving a car which was actually stationary. Men were rocking it to represent movement, others were dancing like Morris Dancers round the car with branches of ‘dingle’ to represent passing lights. Jonathan was driving, looking very serious as this mayhem went on around him and, again, I lost it. On ‘Cut’ I was giggling uncontrollably and Jonathan was puzzled. I tried to explain, but subsided into worse giggling, literally sinking to my knees. He just shook his head and walked away.
No matter how much control you may exert, things always go wrong and a massive set was wiped out overnight when part of the roof collapsed in the studio and a week’s work had to be relocated in a state of emergency. Making films is really not glamorous. You mostly reel from one crisis to the next, or spend your nights in freezing muddy trenches, thanking fate that you are only recreating WWI, and nobody is shooting at you.
Pia Di Claula and I cut a shorter version of REGENERATION (easier to digest) for North America. I later learned they re-named it BEHIND THE LINES for some bewildering reason.
I was invited to make HIDEOUS KINKY by Stephanie Guerassio and Mark Shivas at BBC Films, while still shooting Regeneration. Ann Scott was the producer and my brother Billy had written the script from Esther Freud’s novel, a memoir of a childhood travelling in Morocco with her sister, Bella, and their mother. I had travelled in Morocco in the seventies and, once again, I was lucky enough to be offered a subject I knew and cared about.
We met Kate Winslet at Groucho’s and soon she was with us in Morocco -the only time an actor has wanted to be on the location recee! We cast Said Taghmaoui (from the excellent LA HAINE) as Bilal. A young actor, Said had volcanic energy.
The hard task was finding the two children but, thanks to casting director Susie Figgis, we found two excellent girls – Carrie and Bella. Casting children in leading roles can lead to sleepless nights. You keep telling yourself -”They are out there, we will find them” but, until you do, you are prone to break out in cold sweats.
Kate became a kind of surrogate mother to the girls, both aged eight, and I will always remember hearing countless times in the headphones, just before “Action”, Kate’s voice saying “Carrie, keep still, keep quiet!” Magically, Carrie would go into character and, just as magically, transform back into Carrie again upon the word “Cut!”
We spent long nights listening to excellent street musicians, noting down interesting market stalls and people, all of which would be bussed into our own medina, a film set built in an old Berber fort. It was impossible to shoot in the medina itself. We tried and it always ended in chaos. It only worked once. We sent little Carrie running through the medina and we all followed behind the steadycam. We just kept running and the scene was shot before anyone had time to object or demand money.
There is never enough of anything when making a film, not enough money, not enough time. A production assistant called the Sufi College in Algeria. We had a scene involving a Sufi and we needed to know more about the religion. She asked the Sufi to explain Sufism. He replied, sensibly, that in order to understand it, one would have to practice it. She said “Yes, but we don’t have time for that, could he just give us the main principles”. He invited her to come to Algeria. He would be very pleased to sit down and speak with her. She said she would love to, but really there just wasn’t time, could he maybe not just explain it now on the telephone. This is what we film makers call research.
Shooting in Morocco is a DoP’s dream and John De Borman was very happy there, having persuaded Ann Scott to shoot wide screen. I kept a small sketchbook and regularly pencilled out images I saw which I wanted to be included in the film.
THE LAST OF THE BLONDE BOMBSHELLS
Analisa Barreto at Working Title Television asked me to direct THE LAST OF THE BLONDE BOMBSHELLS, written by Alan Plater, a television film with a great cast of older actors led by the wonderful Judi Dench and lan Holm. A delicious prospect. People sometimes say I make dark films to which I would reply “only sometimes”. This was light, even silly, with lots of jazz and a wonderful cast.
It tells the story of a female sax player (Judi Dench) and a drummer (lain Holm) who meet by chance in their sixties. During World War Two they were in the same jazz band. The drummer was the only male member of the all girl band and he had sexual relations with every girl in the band, but she was the virgin, protected by the other girls. We needed a fifteen year old girl to play the young Judi Dench and found Romola Garai, who has since deservedly made a name for herself.
Now they decide to round up the band members and play again. Some are in dead, or in jail, or senile but, finally, they assemble enough of them to play the gig and, at long last, the drummer consummates his unrequited desire for the sax player, but fifty years later than he had hoped.
THE ESCAPIST is a thriller and a love story, written by Nick Perry, produced by Jolyon Symonds. A man (Jonny Lee Miller, who I had worked with on REGENERATION), witnesses the brutal murder of his wife and can’t rest until he takes revenge. The murderer (Andy Serkis) is in a high security prison and the only way he (Jonny) can get to him is by changing his identity and committing a crime, going to prison, and learning to be an escape risk, thus being sent down the line to high security where he can confront his wife’s killer.
It was the first time I worked with DoP Nigel Willoughby, who we found at the eleventh hour, but who proved to be gold dust. He lit sets beautifully and (critically) in rhythm with the schedule – otherwise this ambitious film could not have been made.
When we were in the cutting room I received a call from Will Turner at Sky Films, telling me that the company was being liquidated. We finished the film and absolutely nothing happened. Years later my daughter told me she had seen a poster in a video shop and, sure enough, it had been released on DVD, but nobody had thought to tell me this. There are many disappointments in film making. We work so hard and do everything we can to make a good film but its fate is then determined by all kinds of arbitrary factors. Its fate seemed to be many re-runs on Sky TV which, at least, means a lot of people saw it.
I met with Kudos Films about Alison Hume’s screenplay, PURE. I wasn’t sure if I should tackle another film about heroin. Stephen Garrett and Howard Burch spelled it out – they were about to go into pre-production and I had to tell them yes or no by the next day. I said yes on condition that we could bring greater focus to the child in the story, make it more about him taking on the whole world to save his mother. I wanted a personal story, not a social realist film.
Casting director Chloe Emmerson suggested Molly Parker for the role of Mel, the mother in the throws of heroin addiction. I had seen Molly in KISSED Years before and, though she is Canadian and the character is English, I thought this an inspired idea.
The problem was to find an eleven year old to play her son. Harry Eden now says I called him in to audition fourteen times. I needed to know that the boy was the right personality, that we could work together, and (of critical importance) that he really wanted to do it. So I did make it hard for him. After all, he would have to get up very early and work all day for weeks on end. If he wasn’t motivated we would be in big trouble.
Harry turned out to be the ideal boy for the role. We had an arrangement. When he was called to set he had to be totally vigilant and in character. When I shouted ‘cut’ for the last take, he could run off and play cricket with the ADs. Harry had the ability to relate to any adult actor he came up against, and to charm them too. He worked beautifully with Molly, and with Keira Knightley, who was herself only sixteen at the time. The film centred around the West Ham football ground. Harry, by chance, is an ardent supporter. He was featured in the team’s magazine and I think that meant more to him than being in the film.
GUNPOWDER, TREASON AND PLOT
After a long development phase, over six months, I was getting restless as none of the films were succeeding in finding their money. One day I found a script waiting for me with two names on it… Jimmy McGovern and Mary Queen of Scots.
I had wanted to work with one of Jimmy’s scripts again for a long time. And my secondary School in Glasgow was located in Battlefield, the site of Mary’s final battle. Throughout my childhood she was a romantic ghost on the hill above the school, forever watching the battle.
This would be two TV films back to back, the other part being about James First, whoBobby Carlyle had agreed to play… it couldn’t look any better. I met with producers Gub Neal and Willy Wands. When I learned the budget, schedule, and that they would be shooting in Romania, I told Willy (an old colleague from THE ESCAPIST) that it would be hell -”…but we like hell, don’t we Willy?” He gave me a sceptical look and said -”No, Gillies, you like hell”. But I know Willy does likes hell really, whether or not he admits it and soon, with troubles on the floor, Willy the producer stepped in as Willy the first assistant director and ran the floor, pulling the crew together and making it possible.
Once we committed, things took a turn for the worse when the BBC withdrew half a million pounds from the budget. This placed us in a state of emergency and, I can honestly say, this was the toughest shoot I have yet encountered. Our backs were always, up against the wall, every day. Nigel Willoughby saved our bacon, lighting fast and beautifully. So did designer Andy Harris, who pulled together a disparate crew of Brits and Romanians and built period exterior streets and interior palaces on the Bucharest set. Special mention to editor Pia Di Ciaula again, who cut two films beautifully on a much diminished schedule. Seriously, when you are in trouble you need to be surrounded by the best people who contribute, know what is required and take responsibility and never resort to complaining.
Casting the film was a treat. I needed a very young French actress to play Mary and foundClemence Posey, who turned twenty one during the shoot. She found all the qualities for Mary – fragile beauty, spirit, even youthful arrogance. Playing opposite her as Bothwell I was blessed with the wonderful Kevin McKidd, who I have worked with on SMALL FACES (gang leader Malky Johnson), REGENERATION (soldier being cured with electricity), HIDEOUS KINKY (Danish hitchhiker, Henning, dying of sunstroke). In fact I brought in lain Robertson, Stephen Duffy and Garry Sweeney, all from the SMALL FACES cast.
When Gary Lewis turned up on set to play John Knox with long grey hair and a beard I didn’t recognise him. The whole cast was fuelled up and ready to give it 100%, and this is a great pleasure for a director. I made the decision to cast the film young – just because it is a period drama doesn’t make the characters old. We wanted the energy that hungry young actors can provide.
Another special pleasure was working with Bobby Carlisle for the first time. He is the kind of actor I love – prepared, committed, coming in with his own agenda, but never failing to communicate and listen. This dynamic stimulates me to come up with my best notes as director.
- Gillies MacKinnon, 2004
Since 2004 Gillies MacKinnon has directed the feature film TARA ROAD, (script by Shane Connaughton from the Maeve Binchy novel), single TV drama THE HISTORY OF MR POLLY, (from the H.G. Wells story) starring Lee Evans and Anne Marie Duff, and ZIG ZAG LOVE, (starring Bobby Carlisle), as well as building up a body of television work with LA PLANTE PRODUCTIONS and COMPANY PICTURES with three episodes of GEORGE GENTLY, parts 5 and 6 of THE VILLAGE, written by Peter Moffat, produced by Emma Burge and a single drama for BBC, CASTLES IN THE SKY, written by Ian Kershaw, starring Eddie Izzard.
In 2009 MacKinnon wrote a Radio 4 Friday play- FLESH AND BLOOD. Reviewing it for The Guardian, Elisabeth Mahoney wrote:
“Extraordinarily, Flesh and Blood was filmmaker Gillies Mackinnon’s first radio drama. You couldn’t tell: this was immediate, intimate and distinct. I loved the atmospheric sound details, from heavy, stressed breathing to the buffing of shoes with a stiff brush. The play was recorded on location in Glasgow, which created an echoey, gloomy aural setting where, as the drama about fathers and sons unfolded, secrets and unanswered questions ricocheted noisily. The two central performances – Gary Lewis (pictured) as Kenny, and David Hayman as his father Roddy – were spot on. Among their terse, vexed exchanges were moments of eloquence, but these concerned the past and its heartbreak. Kenny recalled the night his wife told him she was leaving him: “I’m spraying Merry Christmas back to front in the window, and she comes in and says, “It’ll never be a merry Christmas with you.” The structure was traditional, and dynamics familiar (the men don’t talk; the women talk lots and get things sorted), but this was a compelling exploration of that old expression, said with a deep sigh in the play, “like father, like son”.
In 2016 MacKinnon directed WHISKY GALORE, a remake of the 1949 film. This premiered as the closing night gala of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016.
Meanwhile MacKinnon continues to develop film and television projects including two he has written- SUGARDADDY and ROSE INDIGO PARIS. Other developments include QUIVER (an Indian project set in the untouchable community), MOLINEAUX (about a black American boxer challenging the English champion in Napoleonic London), MAJOR GOON (how the Goons met and came together), DIE LAUGHING (a drama about a boy and his reprobate grandfather) and JUSTIFIED SINNER (from the Scottish classic by James Hogg).