Who wouldn’t want a man that walks 500 miles (and 500 more) just to be with you? In 1988 the Scottish band The Proclaimers released their album “Sunshine on Leith” featuring the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” which had all the buoyant freshness of a young June bride clutching a rose bouquet. The Proclaimers went on to platinum-album fame, world fame with “500 Miles” still adorning the soundtracks of movies and TV shows. Dexter Fletcher’s new film, “Sunshine on Leith,” builds its entire story around that song.
It’s a film draped in the flag of Scotland — anyone who’s ever had a couple of pints in a Scottish pub will choke back a few tears watching this feel-good vehicle running on patriotic fervor. As one of the characters says, “Edinburgh is the greatest place on Earth.”
“Sunshine on Leith” was a beloved stage musical before being adapted to the screen by British actor/director Fletcher. All the songs are performed by the cast, including Jane Horrocks (of “Little Voice” fame), Scotland’s iconic Peter Mullan (sporting a thick, raspy singing voice) and The Proclaimers themselves even put in a cameo. Toward the end, the feel-fabulous factor goes up so high that some in the audience may feel the urge to step out to take a deep breath of toxic car fumes or have the desire to watch a frame or two of “Apocalypse Now.”
The story goes like this: Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) — childhood buddies recently discharged from the British Army after serving in Afghanistan — finally go home to Scotland. Ally picks up where he left off with girlfriend Liz (Freya Mavor), who happens to be Davy’s sister, and she, in turn, introduces her brother to Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). The four start to feel like everything will be okay.
But on different levels, Davy and Ally feel restless and confused. Getting back into normal routines after serving in Afghanistan comes with a set of emotional difficulties and, on top of that, Davy’s parents Jean (Horrocks) and Rab (Mullan) are experiencing serious fidelity problems after 25 years of solid marriage.
There’s nothing in the story that doesn’t have the familiar tinge of a million other relationship stories, and we all know where each couple is headed, long before they get there. The point of “Sunshine on Leith” is not to impress or fascinate but to comfort the soul and ease the mind. In this age of diluted relationships there’s still such a thing as two people being introduced by a friend in a bar; or a couple who can confirm their love for each other, decades after tying the knot; or a man who will sprint to a train station (Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, in fact) to tell his girlfriend how he feels about her. So what if it’s only happening in a movie — at least it’s happening.
And then there’s the delight of the music and a brilliant flash-mob performance of “500 Miles” in the finale. Yes, it’s a bit much, and often it’s even embarrassing. On the other hand, life sure would be lonely if your dog never gave you a big, gooey kiss on the cheek.