Rona Morison

Our Ladies

04/09/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

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.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

Glory On Earth

23/05/17

Glory on Earth, written by Linda McLean and directed by David Greig, is a refreshingly unusual piece of historical theatre. It’s the story of Mary Queen of Scots (Rona Morison) and the four meetings she held with protestant reformer, John Knox (Jamie Sives), whilst she was in virtual captivity in Holyrood Palace. To Knox, Mary was an abomination – a staunch Catholic with a genuine claim to the throne of Scotland, a country that had so recently been swept ‘pure’ by the Calvinist reformation.

Karen Tenant’s stage design eschews any conventional attempt at historical accuracy. Mary and her six female attendants (who, frustratingly for any would-be reviewer, are all called ‘Mary’ and each take on several other roles throughout the play) are dressed stylistically, in a mixture of old and new – lace ruffs and painted boots. The sets feature key elements that simply hint at architectural detail – stone arches drift silently down from above; a wooden pulpit resembling a scaffold trundles in from the wings. Moreover, the sound design utilises a mash-up of contemporary music from The Jesus & Mary Chain to the torch songs of Edith Piaf (the latter alluding to Mary’s previous role as Queen Consort of France). To add to the mix, the actors also sing some enchanting reformation psalms and occasionally even play musical instruments.

If I’m making this sound like a bit of a hodge-podge, I certainly don’t mean to. The central tenet of the tale – the clash between two styles of religion – is eloquently told. Jamie Sives’s Knox is a dour and intimidating presence, his grim expression guaranteed to take the fizz off anybody’s pint in an instant, while Morison’s Mary displays all the impatience and affectation of an eighteen year old woman caught in an impossible situation, desperately seeking a husband and trying in vain to kindle some kind of a friendship with her father’s cousin, Elizabeth. Of course, we all know where Mary’s journey ends and, as she progresses steadily towards her inevitable doom, it’s impossible not to feel sympathy for her plight.

A deceptively powerful piece, this, and one that delights in pointing out that, centuries after these events, there still exists the same constant wrangling between Catholic Europe and Protestant Britain. Those with an interest in the history of Scotland will definitely want to catch this, but there’s something here that will resonate with a wider audience than that. This is a tale about humanity, about belief, and about the impact we have on others. And it doesn’t get much more universal than that.

4 stars

Philip Caveney