Alan Cumming to play ‘Scotland’s most notorious imposter’ in new film

Hollywood and Broadway star Alan Cumming is to star in a new film recalling the true-life story of how a 30-year-old man managed to enroll as a 16-year-old pupil at his old high school in Scotland.

Sunday, 9th January 2022, 4:55 am
Alan Cumming appears as schoolboy imposter Brian MacKinnon in the new drama-documentary My Old School by Jono McLeod. Picture: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

The Scottish stage and screen star will portray Brian MacKinnon, who famously duped staff and pupils at Bearsden Academy, in East Dunbartonshire, into thinking he was a teenager for two years.

My Old School will recall how MacKinnon, a failed medical student at Glasgow University, created a new identity as Brandon Lee and a bogus back-story that he was from Canada.

It will chart MacKinnon’s transformation as the geeky newcomer at Bearsden Academy into one of its best-performing pupils and even landed the lead role in the school musical.Director Jono McLeod, who was a classmate of MacKinnon at the time, created My Old School with Glasgow-based producers Hopscotch.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The film will feature a new interview with MacKinnon, who was expelled from Dundee University’s medical school in 1995 when his false persona was exposed.

He found himself at the centre of a global media storm and branded "Britain’s oldest schoolboy”.

After MacKinnon agreed to cooperate with the film but refused to appear on screen, Cumming agreed to portray him by lip-synching his words to help bring his remarkable story to life on screen.

Legendary Scottish singer Lulu has also recorded a new version of her 1967 hit single To Sir With Love, from the film of the name name, for McLeod’s movie.

Brian MacKinnon was 30 when he re-enrolled at his old school, Bearsden Academy. Picture: Allan Milligan

My Old School, which will premiere at one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, Sundance, this month, is billed as “the astonishing true story of Scotland’s most notorious imposter".

An official announcement on the film states: “In 1993, 16-year-old Brandon Lee enrolled at Bearsden Academy, a secondary school in a well-to-do suburb of Glasgow.

"What followed over the next two years became the stuff of legend.

"The preternaturally bright student surprised teachers by blazing toward his goal of entering medical school, displaying a wealth of knowledge beyond his years.

Brian MacKinnon re-enrolled at Bearsden Academy when he was 30. Allan Milligan

"Brandon found friends despite his initial awkwardness. He took bullied students under his wing, introduced classmates to seminal retro bands, and even starred in the school's production of South Pacific. But then his unbelievable secret was revealed.”

A promotional film for My Old School, which offers the first glimpse of Cumming’s portrayal, sees him state: "The thing you have to do if you really want to prevail is do the unimaginable.”

McLeod, who has used “period specific animation” inspired by the MTV high school series Daria to “evoke 1990s school life”.

McLeod said: “In 1993, when we were 16 years old, my classmates and I welcomed a new kid. His name was Brandon and came from Canada.

Brian MacKinnon appeared in school shows at Bearsden Academy after re-enrolling when he was 30. Picture: Shutterstock

"When he arrived, he was a bit of a geek, but over the course of two years managed to climb the social ladder of high school life and become pretty popular, until the secret of his success was revealed.

“My Old School is a film about ambition, deceit, friendship and the many barriers that make up the British class system. It’s a story that I think is as unique as it is universal.”.

Dani Carlaw, head of unscripted at Screen Scotland says: “As the bold theatrical debut of director Jono McLeod, this film delivers twists and turns, and is told arrestingly from the perspectives of Jono and other members of his school class as they reveal their direct experiences of Brandon Lee.

"The film is a high-quality documentary utilising contemporary interviews, archive material, animation and Scotland’s own Alan Cumming.

"It’s selection to Sundance is a major validation of a Scottish filmmaking team. It really delivers on a key element of Screen Scotland’s unscripted vision to support and elevate the Scottish documentary sector to a global audience.”

Brian MacKinnon created the false identity of Brandon Lee when he returned to Bearsden Academy as a 30-year-old. Picture: Shutterstock