Jono McLeod

My Old School

01/09/22

The Cameo, Edinburgh

Truth, they say, is stranger than fiction. In Brian MacKinnon’s case, the two are intertwined. He’s the Peter Pan of Glasgow, the perennial schoolboy who returned – aged thirty-two – to the classrooms of his youth, determined to press rewind and try again, hoping for a different outcome second time around. Because MacKinnon had only ever had one desire: to become a doctor. And, if at first you don’t succeed…

…then you change your name to Brandon Lee and pretend to be sixteen. Right?

Right.

My Old School, directed by Jono McLeod, is a little masterpiece. The documentary blends animation with archive footage; audio recordings of MacKinnon with lip-synching from Alan Cummings; former classmates’ recollections with teachers’ regrets. Perhaps McLeod’s insider-status helps: he was actually there, one of Brandon’s peers; he’s able to acknowledge how benign MacKinnon’s deception was, as well as how bloody weird. There’s no attempt here to sensationalise, to turn this into something creepy or dangerous. Instead, the focus is on how strange – and ultimately sad – MacKinnon’s story is.

Cummings manages to convey MacKinnon’s peculiar blend of arrogance and vulnerability, and the animation (by Rory Lowe et al) has a retro Grange Hill vibe that suits the period. Brandon’s school pals come across as a kindly, forgiving bunch, more bemused than outraged by his deception.

In the end, there’s a terrible sense of poignancy, as we realise that everyone else has moved on, their schooldays firmly behind them. They’re busy living their lives: they are pharmacists, comedians, parents, carers, wrestlers, business leaders – and film makers. Meanwhile, MacKinnon is stuck, clinging to the past, chasing the memory of a broken dream.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield