THE DEBT COLLECTOR
Initial reports have tagged it 'the Jimmy Boyle movie', but
The Debt Collector has much more to say about Scotland than that, as actor KEN STOTT and director
ANTHONY NEILSON reveal. Words: Alan Morrison
F orive us our ebts
SCOTCH MYTHS NO 1: William Wallace, a tartan tourist trap, the Tattoo, open arms to all-comers, Fair Play winner at the footie.
SCOTCH MYTHS NO 2: the hard man, razor gangs, Tongs Ya Bass, a broken pint glass in the pub.
SCOTLAND, IN ITS EARLY POST-DEVOLUTION DAYS. is in the process of reassessing the image it presents to itself and the world. Looking back through history. the nation embraces Robert The Bruce fighting the English but rejects Glasgow gangs fighting each other. How fitting. then. that the latest film to emerge from Scotland's film industry climaxes with two men. both products of the violent recent past. battling to the death against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle and the sound of bagpipes.
The Debt Collector is more than the ‘veiled Jimmy Boyle movie‘ that initial press reports claimed. [1 looks at Scotland with such a dark. probing. self-critical eye that some viewers will not want to see past those biographical surface similarities to the depths beneath.
Billy Connolly plays Nicky Dryden. a former gangland thug with a vicious. no- excuses attitude to those who owe him money. After being imprisoned in the 70s. Dryden emerges as a celebrity sculptor who lives in luxury overlooking the River Forth. The policeman who caught him. Gary Keltie (Ken Stott). is embittered by Dryden’s success and his determined to make him continue to suffer for his past deeds.
‘ln a way. Keltie has old-fashioned socialist principles.‘ says Stott. ‘and the kind of morality that Keltie stands for abounds in
'Because I was so pissed off with the whole business, a lot of my venom and anger got
Scotland. But he takes it to an obsessive Channened degree. The film isn’t heavily political. into the however; it’s more a Jacobean revenge or - 1 Greek tragedy — except that there is no Scr'pt'
redemption.’ Stott. familiar from TV’s The Vice and the Daniel Day Lewis film The Boxer, has already
14 THE LIST 10—24 Jun 1999
The Ptllltellldll (tumult; Ken ‘mm in [he Dem (,nllmlm
noticed how The Debt Collector hits a raw nerve: ‘()ne journalist asked me ifl felt it was right that we should bring tip the past like this because Scotland has moved on. Well. it isn‘t really about that. because this is a film that could happen anywhere. It could be happening in Miami. it could New York.'
Okay. the criminal-as—celebrity is a national phenomenon in America. from tabloid TV shows to ()J. Simpson. But The Del)! Collector‘s brand of ‘l kent his faither‘ unforgiveness is something that the Scots are particularly hung up on.
‘lt‘s also about the Scottish attitude to somebody who moves from one class to the other.‘ agrees writer-director Anthony Neilson. 'Which is why the casting of Billy Connolly was interesting — it‘s almost what‘s happened to him. For a lot of people. he was a great working-class hero. their ambassador to the world. and then he starts ~- allegedly — hobnobbing with a different class of people. and a lot of folk felt betrayed by that.‘
Edinburgh—born Neilson. best known as a playwright. came to his feature film debut via some TV work — including ('rueker — and a short film. Deeper Still. But the 3 l -year-old admits the project has its roots at a career crossroads.
‘11 was a case of being at rock bottom. really.‘ he says. 'I was skint and deeply depressed. so I just withdrew from the world and thought. “Right. I'm going to get something done". Probably because I was so pissed off with the whole business. a lot of my venom and anger got channelled into the script. into Keltie‘s character.‘
Psychological tension and explosions of violence are common markers of Neilson's stage work. His cinema debut adds a fresh voice to the Scottish film industry.
‘I wanted this to be a bit of a modern-day epic — although ultimately I didn't have the resources to make it that sort of an epic. It‘s strange that the only things we allow to be shot on big widescreen. with unashamed music and drama. always have to be period stuff — Brave/rear! or Rah Roy or something like that. Anything contemporary has to be quite small—scale otherwise it's open to ridicule. It would be nice. now that we‘re actually building a Scottish film industry. to know there are a lot of different styles coming through.‘
The Debt Collector opens on Fri 11 Jun. See review page 22.