hrust back into the spotlight with Ruby, which he reckons to be the best thing he has done in ten years or so, John MacKenzie almost surprises himself with the realisation that his feature career is now entering its third decade. The Edinburgh-born director is probably best known to cinemagoers for the hard-hitting British gangster pic The Long Good Friday, although his track record extends to both high profile Hollywood projects, like 1983’s
work on British television, most notably in collaboration with tough fellow Scots writer Peter MacDougall.
‘Unman, Wittering and Zigo in 1971 , that was my first movie,’ he begins, recalling that rather enjoyable, sinister tale about diabolical goings-on in an exlusive boarding school. ‘I seemed to get offered that very quickly because I’d only been directing for a couple of years. That was good, but then my second film, Made, this dreadful thing about a musician with Roy Harper, was a complete disaster. At that point there weren’t many ﬁlms at all being done in Britain, so I went back into TV. That’s when I began my so-called Scottish period.
‘There I was, a Scotsman born and bred, who’d never actually done any work in Scotland until the 705 when I got together with Peter MacDougall. I’d just read his first play, JustAnother Saturday. about sectarianism in Glasgow, and knew right away that I wanted to do it, it was just so fresh and raw. We did it as a BBC production from London. taking the crew on location to Scotland where we met with a fair amount of resentment, really. The first year we tried to set it up, the police refused us permission to film in the streets because they felt it would cause bloodshed both in the making of it and in the screening of it. We fought tooth and nail with Glasgow Council because they felt we were giving the place a bad name by having these gangs fighting each other. Totally ridiculous. I mean, would anyone in London tell you that you couldn’t show violence on screen because it would make the place look bad? You’ve got to show it, warts and all.’
In fact, with Just Another Saturday temporarily shelved, MacKenzie kept himself busy with a 1974 screen version of John McGrath’s The Cheviot, The Stag and
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Mafia hoodlums, Scottish hard men, Cockney kingpins — JOHN MACKENZIE has put them all on screen. Trevor Johnston talks to the Edinburgh-born director of TV’s A Sense of Freedom and cinema’s Ruby.
drama in the true sense of the word, in that we showed the audience’s affinity with the history taking place before their eyes.’ He finally got the go-ahead for the Glasgow project a year later, following its success (it was recently shown again as part of Channel 4’s series of best TV plays of the 705) with further MacDougall pieces, JustA Boy’s Game and Elephants’ Graveyard, both
~ uncompromising portrayals of the rougher
The Honorary Consul, and much sterling 70$ ?
A there just aren‘t any movies made here
side of life in the west of Scotland.
It was slightly later that The Long Good Friday — which started life as a TV film, before Bob Hoskins’s powerhouse performance as small-time crime kingpin Harold Shand blasted it onto the big screen — Was to establish him as a bankable director on both sides of the Atlantic. This heralded an 805 career that has lurched from the likes of sensitive Film On Four childhood drama The Innocent to the Charles Bronson US cable mini-series Act of Vengeance. ‘I suppose it has been a bit up and down,’ he says, ‘but I’ve never really wanted to move to Hollywood and so I am dependent on what drops through the letter box. I still get offered a lot of big budget action things like Robocop 2, which I tend to turn down because those films are terribly tedious to make. I’d love to work solely in Britain but
anymore. I know as well as anybody else that something like The Fourth Protocol was just a potboiler. but it was the only film being shot here at the time. That’s what you’re up against.’
Still, his most bruising Scottish experience was to come in 1981 when he packed his bags for Glasgow once more to film the Jimmy Boyle story A Sense OfFreedom, which featured a brilliant performance from David Hayman as the one-time hard man turned respected sculptor and all-round Scots media figure. ‘We went from contentiousness to absolute contentiousness on that one,’ he laughs. ‘We were harassed every day by the Glasgow press, so much so that we had to film some ofthe exteriors over in Edinburgh. Then Rifkind wouldn’t let us shoot in a prison or anything that even looked like a prison, so we ended up doing
all that stuffin Dublin. Basically, nobody
but nobody liked Jimmy Boyle. They
thought he was an outrage and that Scotland shouldn’t be associated with nasty men like that. But I wasn’t portraying him as a nice man, i
David Hayman (below) as Jimmy Boyle In A Sense of Freedom. and Bob Hoskins (right) In The Long Good Friday.
, I was portraying him as a rounded individual.’
LThe Black, Black Oil —— ‘a documentary
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