Our Ladies opens with a sweeping shot of the Scottish Highlands as the camera narrows in on five teenage girls dressed in ethereal white gowns, evoking the rich mythology associated with the North of Scotland. Minutes later, these same girls are on a bus trip with their Catholic school choir to Edinburgh, with only one goal on their minds: to get laid. It is evident that Michael Caton-Jones’ Our Ladies, which was adapted from Alan Warner’s 1998 novel The Sopranos, wants to poke fun at both the mythification of the Highlands and the perceived chastity of teenage girls. Inevitably, the choir excursion falls into chaos as the titular ladies, excited to be in Edinburgh, the “place of sinful wickedness”, spend their time cheekily partying, flirting and engaging in general teenage debauchery.
Whilst at first it appears as if much of the humour of Our Ladies is centred around the scandalous concept that teenage girls can be horny too, which certainly may have been a shocking conceit in the 90s but in 2020 feels a bit stale, the film luckily transforms into a more nuanced examination of the various interpersonal struggles of being young, female and on the cusp of adulthood. Protagonist Orla’s fervent desire to lose her virginity comes from her harrowing struggle with leukaemia, whilst for her friend Mandy, finding a boyfriend with a steady job is a means of securing stability in her bleak hometown. A surprisingly tender plot thread furthermore revolves around one of the girls accepting her lesbianism, and the film refreshingly never belittles the decisions the girls make throughout its narrative. Plenty of ill-considered pubescent behaviour is abound, but Caton-Jones portrays the girls’ struggles with empathy and care. Whilst inevitably the ladies move onwards in different directions, as friend groups in coming-of-age films are wont to do, their electrifying dynamic is the core strength of the film, and every scene with the ensemble cast is simply a riot.
Refreshing too is that Our Ladies’ comedy comes from the chaos that the girls leave in their wake, with the gross-out humour typically associated with sex comedies largely left to the wayside. This is a testament to how precisely drawn its characters are, and, although the film at times juggles the arcs of six different characters, it never loses its footing. Whilst there are some narrative beats that feel a bit dated and seem like holdovers from the book, Our Ladies always manages to keep its pulsating momentum going, especially through the use of several musical interludes. A highlight here is an impromptu karaoke performance of Tainted Love by actress Marli Siu (which was filmed in the Queen Margaret Union’s own venue, no less).
It is clear that Our Ladies has no interest in presenting a sanitised version of the devilish machinations of teenage girls, and in that it captures the essence of what it feels like to be finally given the chance to run free. Whilst the film may not break new ground when it comes to female-fronted teen comedies, its boisterous, unrelenting energy and distinctively Scottish charm make for an immensely fun and explosive experience.
More information on the Glasgow Film Festival is available here: https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival.
[Amelie Voges – she/her –@amelieleav]