Director: David Mackenzie
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullun
Duration: 98 minutes
Novelist Alexander Trocchi is now being re-discovered. He
is seen as one of the Beat novelists, reflecting the existentialist
trends of the time, the anti-hero who lives in the present,
who moves from one episode in life to another, often without
regard to consequences. Trocchi was, for decades, a desperate
heroin addict. His anti-hero seems addictive but is something
of a sex-addict.
This film version of his 1955 novel re-creates Glasgow in
the early 50s. This has been superbly done. The characters
work on the barges in the canal system, transporting coal
and fuel. We feel we have been there and experienced this
life. The photography is complemented by an atmospheric score
by David Byrne (of Talking Heads) and the lyrics of a final
credits song about anti-heroes.
Ewan McGregor is a drifter, Joe, a reader and would-be writer,
working on a barge managed by your ordinary labourer, Les,
a fine, bluff Peter Mullan, and owned by his hard-working
wife, Ella, played by Tilda Swinton, completely convincing
as a dowdy woman trapped in drudgery and an increasingly drab
marriage who responds to the drifter discovering passion and
sensuality that she had never suspected.
The other principal character is Cathie, Emily Mortimer.
She has embarked on an affair with Joe which has unexpected
consequences which are revealed in flashbacks which are initially
confusing, making us think at first that they are part of
the narrative. Gradually, they build up another story and
to a climax where Joe has to the opportunity to make a profound
While Ewan McGregor acts well, his character is difficult
and challenging to respond to - which, of course, is the aim
of the film-makers. He is both charming and impersonal, sensitive
and callous, sometimes deep, sometimes callow. He is also
This is gritty film-making, a slice of life where characters
are not simply good or evil, but tantalisingly complex.