Our Ladies by Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy) has world-premiered in the Special Presentation selection of the 63rd BFI London Film Festival. Based on Alan Warner’s The Sopranos, it’s the second book by the author to be adapted for the screen after Lynne Ramsay directed Morvern Callar [+see also:
film profile] in 2002.
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It’s the 1990s, and a group of teenage Catholic choirgirls from a port town in Scotland are heading to a singing competition in Edinburgh, under the watchful eye of Sister Condron (Kate Dickie). The film focuses on six of the girls (Eve Austin, Tallulah Greive, Abigail Lawrie, Sally Messham, Rona Morison and Marli Siu), whose eye is not on the prize, but rather on the prospects of boozing, shopping and shagging. When Sister Condron – or Sister Condom, as the girls like to call her – gives the girls some time off before the competition, the fabulous six try to make the most of their short window of freedom. Pubs, record stores, shopping, karaoke, bizarre strangers and even an accidental visit to a brothel to use the loo end up on the agenda.
The well-rounded central characters created by Warner in his book don’t lose any of their meatiness in this adaptation, and it’s through the dynamic between them – and through the prism of humour – that friendship, growing pains and the effects of the claustrophobic environment of a small-town community and Catholic school are explored. The young actors do a great job: their chemistry is evident on the screen, and the distinctive personalities are effectively explored in this enjoyable group effort.
No longer children, nor yet grown-ups, their naïvety and eagerness to give in to their impulses feed the girls with a blind determination that pays no heed to the consequences. There is an underlying craving for freedom present in their reckless behaviour, a wish to break free from the Catholic school rules and the lack of prospects in their gloomy port town, where the most exciting thing to look forward to is hooking up with sailors. But there are consequences to one’s actions, and the real world waiting outside, behind the spontaneous carelessness, doesn’t always have mercy.
God forgives, but nuns might not, unprotected sex is likely to result in pregnancy, and not all strangers can be trusted, especially if they’re found in public saunas that look more like brothels. But just like plants grow towards the light and sleazy men gravitate towards Catholic schoolgirls, the innocence of youth reaches forward and strives to overcome the obstacles.
And no matter the choices or ramifications, Our Ladies goes gentle on the girls, as it doesn’t judge or moralise. They are funny and fierce, and their friendships persevere through illness, revelations and even sharing the same guys due to a shortage of men. But the male characters are subject to a different treatment and are relegated to the sidelines. They become objects of desire. And unlike the girls, the men are there, with one nerdy exception, to be judged and laughed at.
Add a truly, madly, deeply nostalgia-inducing soundtrack, outfits and technological rudiments (CDs and VCRs) to the above, and the result is a genuine, heartfelt coming-of-age film about a group of girls trying to strike a balance between their desires and their obligations. It took 20 years for Michael Caton-Jones to make this film, and we should be thankful that he finally managed it.