EIFF 2015 – Scottish Mussel
Talulah Riley’s Scottish rom-com Scottish Mussel attempts to educate viewers on the plight of the Mussel that faces constant threat from pearl thieves.
I have to say that going in I had no idea that people murdering Mussels to steal the pearl within was an issue that demanded immediate attention but after seeing this I am certainly more aware. Combining a love story with an environmental message is always going to raise a few eyebrows as there will be lots of attempts to tug at the heart strings throughout.
The film focuses on Ritchie (Martin Compston) a young man that would colloquially be known as a “waster”. He has no job, not a great deal of intelligence and no real prospects in life. He’s quite pessimistic about the whole thing as he can’t really see a way out of his situation so has really resigned himself to his humdrum existence. He spends all of his time with his similarly unambitious friends Fraser (Joe Thomas) and Danny (Paul Brannigan) and they mill about trying to figure out how to make some money. Maybe this is a comment on the reputation for us Scots to approach life with a bit more of a morbid edge but it’s handled with so little sophistication that it just comes across as painfully obvious.
It all changes when they are mistaken for pearl thieves due to the unfortunate coincidence of them driving a white van. They learn how much a stolen pearl can fetch them so hatch a plan to become the thing they were falsely accused of. Ritchie does his part by volunteering at the wildlife center responsible for safeguarding these areas and his friends follow his instructions on where to poach -is that the right word?- the unprotected Mussels.
The rom-com formula hits in full force after this point as Ritchie follows a painfully forced and predictable arc that will surprise no-one. He finds himself regretting what it is they are doing due to the damage being done to the local ecosystem and he also starts to fall for the die hard Mussel activist Beth (Talulah Riley also starring in the film she wrote and directed). You could map out the story beats in your sleep after this point as the path it follows isn’t the least bit imaginative.
Despite the boring narrative there are some positive flourishes. Martin Compston is really good as Ritchie. He’s nicely charismatic and usually believable despite some of the terrible dialogue given to him. He’s pretty much what you’d expect a “cheeky chappie” to be so embodies that role well. His arc is painfully obvious but I did find myself rooting for him to succeed on the whole.
Talulah Riley’s performance is all over the place. She comes across as too intense and there’s a real lack of realism to her character and performance. She and Compston don’t really have much in the way of chemistry and some of her dialogue has a tendency to be more than a little preachy. Her performance issues might have something to do with her pulling double duty as director and not really being able to concentrate on anything.
There was an uncomfortable emphasis on connecting the whole thing to Scotland as much as humanly possible. There are lots of sweeping views of beautiful countryside vistas and music ranging from the Proclaimers to Del Amitri to really set the mood. It feels like such a superficial view of Scotland, not unlike what you might find on the front of a shortbread tin. Maybe it offends me more with me being Scottish but the whole reason for this film existing feels akin to the film Australia in terms of drumming up tourism.
Some really terrible Scottish accents hamper this thing even further. I’m not sure why Harry Enfield needed to be Scottish to make this film work. Promoting more cultural diversity instead of awful fake accents would have been most welcomed given the film having the pseudo message of putting differences aside.
On the whole I can’t really recommend this as something worth watching. Parts of it are good enough but it comes across as being really forced at the best of times and offensive at the worst of times. Get your Scottish culture elsewhere as it’s completely hollow here.