Alan Laidlaw reviews Scottish Mussel at the Edinburgh International Film Festival – one of the year’s most poorly executed and unnecessary films
It’s difficult to know quite where to start with Scottish Mussel: the Citizen Kane of woeful films made in Scotland.
I say made in Scotland, because even though it’s set in the Highlands and centres itself around an industry inextricably linked with the Scottish economy, it hardly feels like a Scottish film at all.
Half of its cast are English comedians putting on the most painful Scottish accents, and director and lead actress Talulah Riley seems to have a grasp of Scottish culture that barely extends beyond the first paragraph of the country’s Wikipedia page.
Please don’t mistake this as a slighted attack against EngIish filmmakers in Scotland – I have absolutely no problem with this; Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and especially Sweet Sixteen are some of the finest films to come out of the country.
But if you’re going to make an attempt, Scottish or otherwise, of representing a nation’s culture, try to do something other than using it as a mere prop in which to haphazardly mount your film; if I had a mussel for every time a wee dram, haggis or ceilidh is mentioned during the proceedings then I could probably start farming them myself.
I’m not saying Scottish Mussel was ever trying to be, nor should be like those previously mentioned films; one assumes it’s supposed to be a light, breezy romantic comedy set around a beautiful setting. But what’s served up to us is more like a half-baked Carry on take of a tourist board ad, with the most excruciating attempt at romance, awkwardly clonked in between the picturesque scenery.
The film is led by Ritchie (Martin Compston), a rough around the edges scheme lad who, along with his chums, hatches a plan to steal a load of precious mussels, with the aim to extract the rare pearls from within.
Things don’t quite go to plan, however, as Ritchie falls for a preservationist, animal welfare activist and – as the film would have it – casual exhibitionist (Talulah Riley), which, coupled with the fact that a band of Ukrainian criminals with machine guns (and the hot-headedness to fire at will) are on the loose, leaves us with have a situation that willfully gives itself up to farce and casual absurdity.
Although Compston does the best with what he is given (it must have pained him to so off-handedly ridicule Govan), he’s fighting a losing battle with his co-stars Paul Brannigan and Joe Thomas, who deliver their lines with the look and conviction of a part-time stand-up who’s just been handed top billing.
This will surely be a low point in the burgeoning career of Brannigan who, one would imagine, is praying that Scottish Mussel doesn’t receive wide distribution. It’s a sure-fire way to know a film is in the bogs when the most believable performance is delivered by an otter.
When a director attempts a debut feature you should naturally bear in mind some concessions; filmmaking is a tough business and it understandably takes time to figure everything out – but in the unfortunate case of Talulah Riley, I think it’s better for everyone, including herself, if she sticks to the day job.