Exploring Glasgow Through Film

In the last few years, Glasgow has become a production paradise, serving as the backdrop for a slew of Hollywood blockbusters, most recently doubling as Gotham City for Matt Reeves’s The Batman (2022) and the now-buried Batgirl film. That said, the city, with its majestic neoclassical buildings, and its lush parks and lively nightlife, has been a central component in the work of several independent talents, too.  Whether you want to explore the Glasgow of the past or of the present, here are three suggestions that will give you a taste of the city.

That Sinking Feeling (1979) – Bill Forsyth

“The action of this film takes place in a fictitious town called Glasgow. Any resemblance to any real town called Glasgow is purely coincidental.” So begins Glasgow-native Bill Forsyth’s debut film, That Sinking Feeling. It follows four unemployed youngsters, Ronnie (Robert Buchanan), Vic (John Hughes), Wal (Billy Greenlees), and Andy (John Gordon Sinclair), who decide that the antidote to their financial problems and existential malaise is to concoct a plan to steal stainless steel sinks from a local warehouse. Forsyth riffs off The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), crafting a humorous heist film that withstands the test of time. Previously in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the cheapest feature to get a UK theatrical release, its young actors were plucked from the Glasgow Youth Theatre stage – the low-budget feel only amplifies its considerable charm. Of course, the Glasgow presented is one of over forty years ago: a portrait of a city in economic decline and subsequent disaffected teens unsure of their place or purpose. Beyond that, however, the film celebrates youthful hijinks and concludes with more than a smidgeon of hope for our good-natured thieves.

Look out for…Ronnie monologuing to the Lord Roberts Monument in Kelvingrove park, expounding upon their respective opportunities (or lack thereof). And—as is only natural for a city in the west of Britain—be prepared for plentiful shots of puddles.

Under the Skin (2014) – Jonathan Glazer

The most compelling character of this early A24 film may well be Glasgow itself, with its lingering shots of the city streets. Loosely based on Michel Faber’s novel of the same name, Scarlett Johansson stars as an unnamed woman who roves around the streets of Glasgow, luring men into her van. Many of those involved in the film were non-actors whose conversations with Johansson’s character were filmed with the help of a hidden camera, lending a realism to the piece despite its sci-fi underpinnings. This is not going to be for everyone (and I’m not entirely convinced it was for me), but it’s certainly a brain-stretcher in which Johansson gives an enigmatic and surprisingly off-type performance. It’s a slow, discomforting, and visually arresting film that may not offer the most flattering portrayal of Glasgow, but certainly captures the loneliness that can run rife in big cities.

Look out for…the city centre nightlife, and the soon-to-be-defunct Buchanan Galleries.

Lovesick (2014-18) – Tom Edge

If you are neither in the mood for a classic caper nor an indie genre film, look no further than Lovesick. A veritable Netflix hidden gem, the series begins with Dylan (Johnny Flynn) finding out he has chlamydia. With the help of his flatmates, Luke (Daniel Ings) and Evie (Antonia Thomas), he must reach into his romantic past, contact his former partners, and find a new—or perhaps old?—flame on the way. Although it is clearly set in Scotland, Glasgow is never mentioned by name and none of the main characters are actually Scottish (although some of them are implied to have grown up here…it’s a bit strange to say the least). Nonetheless, screenwriter Tom Edge, whose most recent work, Vigil (2021), was also set in Glasgow, offers a funny and heartfelt sitcom that feels complete by the end of its short but sweet twenty-two episode run.

Look out for…the majority of scenes, which were shot in and around the West End, and the University quadrangles have a memorable cameo in the final episode. Also, beware! The ubiquity of tank tops and shorts in Evie’s wardrobe over the three-season run will certainly give false expectations as to how warm Scottish summers are.

[By Eve Connor (she/her) | Film editor] 

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