Our Ladies is a joyous film, both raucous romp and celebration. It’s a coming-of-age tale, centring on six teenage girls, caught on the cusp between childhood and adulthood. It’s 1996 and they’re straining at the leash during their final few weeks at Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Catholic School in the Scottish Highlands. Fort William is a beautiful town, but it is very remote, and the girls are desperate for new experiences. So, when Sister Condron (Kate Dickie) organises a trip to Edinburgh, they’re eager to go. Okay, so they’ll have to participate in a choir competition, but so what? There will be a few sublime hours in the afternoon when they can do whatever they want: go shopping, go dancing, get pissed, get laid.
Finnoula (Abigail Lawrie), Chell (Rona Morison), Kylah (Marli Sui), Orla (Tallulah Greive) and Manda (Sally Messham) are the cool girls, the natural inhabitants of the coach’s back seat, with vodka in their Coke bottles and cigarettes in their bags. They’re on a mission to take Edinburgh by storm. Finnoula has her own agenda: she wants to experiment a little away from the confines of home, while Kylah has a list of obscure CDs she needs to buy. Chell’s just along for the giggles, and Manda doesn’t care what happens, as long as she’s with Finnoula. Leukaemia survivor Orla has the most specific aims: she wants to buy some thigh high boots and have sex, so that she can stop being the only virgin in the crowd. One thing’s for sure, none of them wants anything to do with straight-laced doctor’s daughter Kay (Eve Austin), with her Head Girl badge and shiny, mapped-out future.
What I like about Michael Caton-Jones’s film (based on Alan Warner’s novel, The Sopranos) is the gloriously realistic and non-judgmental way the teenage girls’ sexuality is portrayed. They’re horny as hell: they’ve all had sex with local hearthrob Dickie Dickinson (Alex Hope), and rumours of sailors coming ashore send them rushing to the town’s one nightclub, on the lookout for fresh meat. On the coach, they flash their bras at passing drivers and hold up signs saying, ‘Shag Me.’ I’ve read reviews that see this as problematic in a post-MeToo world, but I just can’t agree. The girls’ overt sexuality isn’t the problem; the issue is the way some adult men exploit it. And that’s shown here, clearly.
There are only a few false notes. Orla’s light BDSM fantasy doesn’t quite ring true, and I’m never really sure why she’s wearing a headscarf over a perfectly lovely pixie cut. She’s had chemotherapy, but her hair has grown back, and it’s beautifully styled, so the moment of revelation when she removes the scarf to show her new boyfriend, Stephen (Martin Quinn), doesn’t make any sense.
That aside, this is a great little movie. Denis Crossan’s cinematography perfectly captures the majesty of both Edinburgh and Fort William (Loch Linnhe’s singular charm is particularly breathtaking). There is, however, one abiding mystery: how did they manage to film the Edinburgh sequences at the end of my road without me even noticing?
The young cast are wonderful, vivacious and wild, and I’m caught up in their seize-the-day revelling, with its undercurrent of self-knowledge, that this might – for some of them – be as good as it ever gets.