Review: The Happy Lands, Glasgow Film Festival

The Happy Lands

GFT, February 17, 1.40pm; Empire Cinema, February 18, 11am

If commitment alone made for great political film-making, Robert Rae’s movie about the struggle of the Fife miners during and after the General Strike of 1926 would sit alongside John Sayles’s Matewan and Ken Loach’s Land And Freedom as a classic of working-class history. Sadly, Rae’s good political intentions are undone by serious aesthetic shortcomings.

For a start, there is the pro-am casting; an army of community actors from Fife is joined by a small band of professionals (including a surprising cameo from Allan Stewart as Harry Lauder). Unless you have Loach’s talent for selecting and directing untrained actors, making a movie with so many amateurs in the cast is bound to lead (as it does here) to distractingly uneven performances.

That, however, is not the film’s chief problem. The narrative (which is peppered with archive material and contemporary interviews with descendants of the 1926 miners) collapses under the weight of a screenplay which is overloaded with didactic plots and sub-plots. The power of this history is undeniable, but this nostalgic and sentimental film lacks the art to express it.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 17, 2013

© Mark Brown

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