Sunshine on Leith puts spotlight on Edinburgh

The Sunshine On Leith stage show
The Sunshine On Leith stage show
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Cinema-goers to bask in glow of big-screen feel-good factor as Sunshine on Leith premiere spotlights heartwarming tale set around watering holes and art venue

My heart was broken. Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow...

Iconic scenes from the city serve as the 'backdrop. PICTURE: TOBY WILLIAMS

Iconic scenes from the city serve as the 'backdrop. PICTURE: TOBY WILLIAMS

The lyrics to The Proclaimers ballad Sunshine on Leith, have prompted many a tear to fall – be it on the terraces at Easter Road where it’s become a Hibs anthem or into empty beer and whisky glasses on bars across the city while it’s sung in smoke-cracked voices into karaoke microphones. It is, for most, a song of sadness rather than joy.

Yet the musical movie of the same name, which receives its international premiere in Edinburgh tonight, couldn’t be more different, according to those who’ve been involved in its making. And even the critics who saw it at the Toronto Film Festival declared it a “stomping feelgood charmer”.

The produc-tion of the film – based on the
stage musical by
Stephen Green-
horn – has also brought joy to the places and people of Edin-
burgh and Leith which feature in it, alongside stars such as Peter Mullen, Jane Horrocks, Antonia Thomas and Jason Flemyng, and young Edinburgh actress Freya Mavor.

From the National Gallery to the Port O’ Leith pub, Waverley Court to Nobles bar and Edinburgh University’s Business School, which doubled as a hospital, to the galleries at the Mound where a cast of 500 sang and danced to the Proclaimers hit I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), the film is a pick and mix selection of some of the most well-known places in town and others which will be put on the silver screen for the first time.

Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullan. Picture: contributed

Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullan. Picture: contributed

Such is the belief that Sunshine on Leith – now dubbed the port’s answer to Mamma Mia! – will encourage more tourists to flock to the Capital, that a movie map has been drawn up to take fans on a tour of the locations.

And Rosie Ellison, from the Marketing Edinburgh Film Office believes the film will also put the Capital firmly back on the map of film producers and financiers. “Without a doubt, having Edinburgh used as a location in big films sparks interest in those who see the city on screen and think ‘oh, we can do this in Edinburgh’. There’s no need to think it might be problematic. It’s great to be able to attend film festivals and say things like ‘we had Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth film here for The Railway Man...’ it does make an 

“And when it’s a film like this one [Sunshine on Leith] which is so joyful, then I think it will definitely put all who watch it in a good frame of mind – including those in the film industry. To have it coming out at the same time as Filth will put Edinburgh firmly back in the spotlight.”

She adds: “We usually have around ten feature films or television dramas filmed in Edinbugh every year but it’s because Edinburgh is a place which makes it easy for film companies to work here. This year there’s been a lot of television footage shot, which most people might not have even noticed, but Edinburgh does appear a lot if you look at shows such as Tony Singh’s Spice Men series or Great British Bake Off.

Proclaimers' Charlie and Craig Reid. Picture: Getty

Proclaimers' Charlie and Craig Reid. Picture: Getty

“Of course when it’s a small location, such as a person’s home, then it’s all straightforward, when it comes to somewhere like the Scottish National Gallery or the Royal Scottish Academy at the Mound, then it’s a different matter. These places have to keep functioning while filming is on-going so there’s lots of conversations about how the cafe can run while Peter Mullan is there shooting a scene and how it might affect the normal clientele.

“The RSA was putting together a major exhibition while filming was happening, and although the artworks are behind screens, it meant dealing with the gallery and liaising with the artist to make sure he was happy. It’s all quite complicated and can take a long time to set up in advance and of course there are always lots of last minute conversations.”

Director-deneral of the National Galleries of Scotland, Sir John Leighton said that despite complications, they are glad to feature in the movie. “We were delighted to help when the producers asked to use the Scottish National Gallery as a backdrop for the musical’s mass dance sequence.

“The Gallery is an iconic part of Edinburgh and looks to have made a fine fit for a film which has the city at its heart. The trailer is thrilling and I’m looking forward to watching the full movie.”

The story of Sunshine on Leith 
focuses on best friends and soldiers Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) on their return to Leith from duty in Afghanistan. Both struggle to learn to live a life outside the Army and deal with the everyday struggles of family, jobs and 

Of course that means some of the scenes take place in hostelries – in particular the Port O’ Leith pub, renowned for its blood-red exterior but painted in Hibs green for the filming. It caused an outcry among some of its regular patrons who support Hearts. But publican Norrie Stewart said that despite some disgruntlement, he was happy to help with the film.

“To be honest, anyone who wants to use the pub as a location for filming, we will bend over backwards to help them because it brings profile to Leith,” he says. “We do get quite a lot of that sort of thing and have a documentary being made about the pub itself. The pub is pretty well known internationally because originally it was a place for sailors to drink, so we get people from all over the world coming in and saying I used to drink in here 15 or 20 years ago.”

Unsurprisingly the film – and map – have been supported by tourism body VisitScotland. Chief executive Malcolm Roughead, says: “The wonderful sights of Edinburgh and Leith, not to mention the warmth of its residents, come under the spotlight in this feel-good movie and I’m sure that anyone watching it will be encouraged to enjoy a visit to Scotland’s capital.

“The city will be promoted on the back of the film by VisitScotland and Marketing Edinburgh through social media and the movie map. Sunshine on Leith is further proof that Scotland is the ultimate movie set.”

Sunshine on Leith has its international premiere tonight at the VUE Edinburgh Omni Centre. It goes on general release on Friday, October 4.


WHEN Anne Henderson signed up her one-bedroom tenement flat in Temple Park Crescent to the list of possible residential locations held by Marketing Edinburgh’s film office, she promptly forgot all about it.

It was only when the phone rang at the beginning of the year that she realised what she’d let herself in for. “The call came out of the blue, they wanted to use my flat in a scene in Sunshine on Leith, and I was thrilled,” she says. “It was very exciting, especially as I hadn’t thought it would ever be used in a film.

“I’m a film fan and I thought it would be interesting to see behind the scenes, so that’s why I went on the list. The filming was in May and only took a day as I think it was just one or two scenes, but there were a few other visits from crew beforehand just for technical issues. I think they chose the flat because the lounge and dining kitchen are quite large so there was plenty of room for manoeuvre – and at times I couldn’t believe the number of people who were there – and the light is quite good.”

Anne, a freelance investment manager and career coach who works from her Polwarth home, was paid for the disruption, but says she’d do it again just for the experience. “The day before filming the props people came in and changed how my lounge looked – but at the end of the day you’d never have guessed they’d even been there. Everything was back to normal. My neighbours were also very understanding about it – in fact my downstairs neighbour allowed her flat to be used as the make-up area. The road was also closed off for a while as they had very large trucks outside for all the equipment.

“The best thing was to watch Dexter Fletcher [the director] in action. It was great fun.”

Rosie Ellison, of Marketing Edinburgh, says they’re always looking for all types of different houses for filming. “It’s free to sign up with us and you never know who might end up in your living room,” she says. “All sorts of homes are in demand. Not just obvious ‘Edinburgh’ homes in the New Town or Old Town.”