LFF 2019: Our Ladies
Hollywood veteran Michael Caton-Jones returns to Scotland with a pleasingly rambunctious take on Alan Warner's cult 90s novel about the misadventures of six catholic school girls let loose in Edinburgh
Our Ladies' opening image evokes the legend of The Five Sisters of Kintail, the rather misogynistic Scottish folk yarn about five virtuous young women who were transformed into mountains so they could wait for eternity on their betrothed. It's fair to say the catholic school girls at the heart of Michael Caton-Jones' film – set in Fort William in 1996 and adapted from Alan Warner's cult novel The Sopranos – aren't so patient. One of them, Orla, has recently recovered from leukaemia after a spell at Lourdes, but there's one more miracle she'd like her Lord and Saviour to perform: get her laid, preferably while tied to a tree. "Unlike your mother, I don't want to be a virgin all my life," she tells him during morning prayer.
Orla's pals are similarly head-strong and boy-daft (a couple are girl-daft too). There's punk singer Kylah (Marli Siu), bolshie alpha Manda (Sally Messham), wild islander Chell (Rona Morison) and head prefect Kay (Eve Austin), whose rich-girl attitude rubs most of the others, particularly Manda, up the wrong way. There's also Finnoula (Abigail Lawrie), who comes to realise she doesn't want to be part of this gang forever.
These young women have a particularly exciting day ahead of them. First, a submarine has arrived in town, meaning local dive The Mantrap will be hoaching with sex-starved sailors. And second, they're travelling down to Edinburgh for the day for a choir competition. "It's a dirty town," warns the girls' prissy singing teacher (Kate Dickie). "I hope so," says Orla.
The film's chief selling point is the rambunctious chemistry between this ensemble and their authentically crude banter. The screenplay by Caton-Jones and the late Alan Sharp (who wrote Rob Roy for the Scottish director) is scattershot with raunchy zingers, but it's at its most spiky and compelling when probing the societal tensions between the girls. A few might escape to the big city; most have early motherhood, Sky TV and mediocre marriages ahead of them.
Hollywood veteran Caton-Jones fairly moves the film along and has some inventive tactics for filling us in on the girls' rich inner lives, including a boisterous musical number and a few adroitly deployed flashbacks which range from poignant to jaw-droppingly outrageous. The narrative only goes slack when boys are introduced. It makes sense that these potential suitors (sleazebags, ne'er-do-wells and weirdoes all) are a drag but it's a shame they suck some of the energy from our protagonists too, who become split up once they hit the cobbles of Edinburgh (these are the days before mobile phones, of course). When they're together, though, Our Ladies is a raunchy riot.
Our Ladies had its world premiere at London Film Festival and will be released in 2020 by Sony Pictures