Peter Mullan is Scotland’s best living actor. Discuss. Certainly there are few Scottish actors whose name I’m as glad to see appear on a film’s credits. It means that even if the film isn’t great, there will be something worth seeing.

His early roles were as gangland enforcers and hard men in TV series and films such as Jute City, Your Cheatin’ Heart and, recently featured on these pages, The Big Man (see You Have Been Watching…The Big Man). While he was heavily involved in Scottish theatre in the 1990s he was constantly working as a screen actor with small parts in some of Scotland’s most successful films including Braveheart, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.

But it wasn’t until his lead role as Joe Kavanagh in Ken Loach’s 1998 film My Name is Joe that his career as a character actor and even leading man took off. We’ll look at My Name is Joe in the coming weeks, but it was here that audiences first fully realised that Mullan could take the big man persona, and marry it with a winning vulnerability. This is where he excels, being able to portray tangible masculinity with realistic, and often well hidden, decency and a sense of personal morality. There is something ‘old school’ about his acting and on screen persona. More and more I consider him Scotland’s equivalent to Clint Eastwood which is as high praise as I could possibly give.

It is this persona that he brings to 2005 comedy/drama On A Clear Day. It’s a tale of a man overcoming the loss of his job, trying, and failing, to deal with the strains within a family who have never quite dealt with shared tragedy, and who attempts to do something spectacular with his life. Here’s the trailer:

It is a film with a premise which could have been unbearably crass, but it has that combination that most films are searching for, a good script, written by Alex Rose, married with a strong cast. As well as Mullan, there is Brenda Blethyn as his wife, Jamie Sives, who was in another of our featured films (see You Have Been Watching…Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself) as his estranged son, and a strong supporting cast which includes faces that you know, but can’t quite place. These include Jodhi May (brilliant in Stephen Poliakoff’s Friends and Crocodiles), Benedict Wong (from Sean Lock’s underrated sitcom 15 Storeys High) and Ron Cook (who played Parker in the live action version of Thunderbirds!). And there’s also Billy Boyd.

It’s interesting to take note of the career of Billy Boyd to date. It seems he is forever destined to reprise his role of Peregrine ‘Pippin’ Took in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as the hapless, not too bright, comedy sidekick, and although he does this very well I would like to see him in some more varied roles. I just have the feeling that the man can act if only he was given the chance to prove it. But I could be wrong.

On A Clear Day deals with questions of gender roles, friendship and family with more subtlety and insight than you might expect. In lesser hands the characters could have been terrible stereotypes, but they all manage to avoid that fate. This is a warm and quite surprising film in the sense that you shouldn’t be surprised by such a plot, but follow it all the way through nonetheless. You may be able to tell how it’s going to end a mile off, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the journey rather than the destination that is important. Try it. I think you’ll like it.

Alistair

Further thoughts can be found at scotswhayhae

Alistair’s latest thoughts on Scottish books appear on the first Monday of every month.

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