City shines in Mamma McMia

Back in 1988, as I jumped about to the Proclaimers in the mosh pit at Glasgow's sweaty Barrowlands Ballroom, I might have received one of my home city's infamous kisses if I'd suggested: "You know what . . . these songs would be great turned into a musical!"

But here we are, nearly 26 years later, and 13 of the best tunes by Craig and Charlie Reid, those bespectacled, geeky-looking twins from Edinburgh, form the basis of Sunshine on Leith. Mamma McMia if you will.

Unlike ABBA, though, the Proclaimers are not global brands. They made a name for themselves singing their protest songs about Scottish industrial decline and first fumbled attempts with the opposite sex, and refusing to tone down their thick east-coast accents in the recording studio.

They received an unlikely shove on to the world stage in 1993, when their tub-thumping I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) was used in the Johnny Depp rom-com Benny & Joon, but then came limited commercial success.

Still, they are "well-kent" names in Scotland so in 2007 the Dundee Repertory Theatre and writer Stephen Greenhorn came up with Sunshine on Leith, which is also the name of their second album and a song sung by fans of the Proclaimers' favourite soccer team Hibs at every game. It turned out to be a surprisingly big hit, especially in Scotland, and has followed Mamma Mia to the big screen.

We first meet young squaddies Davy and Ally (George MacKay and Kevin Guthrie), sitting ducks in a troop carrier in Afghanistan and muttering a few lines of Sky Takes the Soul, the tension mounting with every repetition before the inevitable Taliban attack.

That's about as good as it gets if you're looking for a gripping plot. But if you're after 100 minutes of feel-good, slightly cheesy music- dialogue-music along the lines of Mamma Mia (but with better singing and acting, and a more picturesque backdrop than even the Greek islands) then this is for you.

So we cut to the cheeky-chappies as they dance their way through Edinburgh, army service over and on their way back to their families. Yep, for days after you'll be humming: "I'm on my way, from misery to happiness today-ay . . . Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh."

In the charismatic Davy's case it's his parents' flat in Leith, the docks area in the north-east of the city which likes to think of itself as a separate town. (In truth, you won't see much of not-so-pretty Leith - you'll need to watch Trainspotting for that - and you can even have a bit of fun trying to work out which scenes have been shot in Edinburgh's big rival, Glasgow.)

Here, we find dad Rab and mum Jean, with Peter Mullan (My Name is Joe) and Jane Horrocks (Little Voice, Dinner Ladies, Absolutely Fabulous) adding a large dollop of acting gravitas, and tenderness, to proceedings.

The Yorkshire-born Horrocks even manages to put on a fine Edinburgh accent, although surely they could have found a Scot (Annie Lennox anyone), while Mullan could have been back in his role as the alcoholic Joe Kavanagh in the Ken Loach classic when he growls his way through Oh Jean (get it) at the couple's 25th wedding anniversary.

He also has the line that hit closest to home for me, and probably any other expat who goes to watch Sunshine on Leith, when he tells his daughter Liz (Fraya Mavor): "You're a Scot. You've always had to travel for work."

And, of course, it tees up Letter From America nicely.

Liz, you see, is the girlfriend of Ally. She then tries to set Davy up with her nursing colleague Yvonne (Antonia Thomas) and what follows are enough love twists to fill up a couple of new albums' worth of Proclaimers songs.

All the famous old ones are there, though, and it culminates in a mass Glee-style production of I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) on the steps of the Scottish National Gallery, between the Mound and Princes Street.

But in among all this razzmatazz is the real star of film - the city of Edinburgh. The sun is shining for a change and it's a tourist office's dream, full of sweeping aerial shots of the castle, Arthur's seat, the Bridges, Carlton Hill and the New Town.

Now that's a real greatest hits package.

If you're after . . . feel-good, slightly cheesy music-dialogue- music along the lines of Mamma Mia (but with better singing and acting, and a more picturesque backdrop than even the Greek islands) then this is for you.

The West Australian

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