Rory Jones

Writer. Teesside-Glasgow

Category: film

Crooks, Clubbers and Commies: British cinema’s love affair with Spain

Written for The Local:

Spain is both home to the largest number of British migrants in Europe, at an estimated 700,000, and last year welcomed a record 17.8 million British tourists, making it by some margin Brits’ favourite holiday destination.

Those in search of the good life have for decades flocked predominantly to the costas but also to Madrid, Barcelona and the Balearics. It should come as no surprise, then, that their lives and exploits have inspired scores of filmmakers – the history of Britain’s long love affair with Spain is nowhere better reflected than in cinema.

From sunburned gangsters to young revolutionaries, Balearic ravers to misty-eyed actors, here are The Local’s favourite portraits of Brits in Spain to have hit the silver screen.

The Business (2005)

Understandably, the Costa del Sol has dominated Spain’s representation in British cinema. The lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries made the Andalusian ‘Sun Coast’ a favourite hideaway for British criminals in the 1970s, a phenomenon that saw British cinema send its much-loved cockney gangsters on holiday. Nick Love’s sometimes cheesy, always entertaining crime flick The Business stars a young Danny Dyer as Frankie, a South Londoner who flees an assault charge to work for a mobster on the Costa del Sol, and ends up smuggling cannabis and cocaine.

Love affectionately evokes the atmosphere of 80s Marbella, with a soundtrack that favours David Bowie and Roxy Music and wardrobe choices that squeeze bloated Brit gangsters into tiny Fila shorts, ensuring Dyer’s Scarface-like rise and fall has a very ‘Brit abroad’ feel.

Sexy Beast (2000)

Though it was released five years earlier, Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast could quite easily have been a sequel to The Business. Ray Winstone’s Gal is exactly where we expect Dyer’s Frankie to be in the present day: roasting on a sun lounger in the Andalusian heat, a former villain turned model expat retiree, seeking nothing more than the quiet life and employing a local kid to clean up and bring him beers. Gal’s Spanish dream is humorously summed up in his opening monologue eulogising the sun, while banal conversations with his wife about the pool tiles register the lazy nonchalance of retired life abroad. This utopian state of affairs is however soon interrupted when Ben Kingsley’s unhinged Don Logan rocks up at the villa demanding Gal take on one last job, and the pressure is slowly cranked up as Gal’s paradise starts to crumble.

Morvern Callar (2002)

No film captures Spain in the British imagination quite like Lynne Ramsay’s mesmerising second feature, Morvern Callar. The eponymous heroine, played by Samantha Morton, wakes up one day to find that her boyfriend has committed suicide and left her funeral money and instructions to send his novel off to publishers. But rather than fulfil his wishes, Morvern submits the novel under her own name and uses the money to leave the dreary, muted Scottish gloom for a sun-drenched Spanish resort with her best friend. The sense of escapism shared by the hordes of Brits that throng these resorts every summer is palpable, as Morvern sticks her head out of the airport taxi window and cracks a smile for the first time in the film.

Kevin & Perry Go Large (2000)

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Harry Enfield’s cult favourite beloved of generations of young teenagers. In the big-screen debut of his trademark sketch character, Enfield sends Kevin the Teenager and Kathy Burke’s gormless Perry to Ibiza to try and make it as DJs, and in so doing sends up the sometimes po-faced dance music scene that has driven young Brits to the island for decades. It might be full of crude humour, but with its pumping trance soundtrack, egotistic Balearic DJs and scenes in iconic club Amnesia, Kevin & Perry Go Large goes some way to reflect the Ibiza of the late nineties.

Land and Freedom (1995)

What links all of the previous films is their lack of Spanish characters – while Spain plays a large role in their tone and visual style, they all but ignore the existence of natives to the country in which they’re set. Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom, meanwhile, breaks this mould by exploring British solidarity with the Spanish Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. The film follows David Carr, a Liverpudlian worker who leaves home for Spain to fight with the International Brigades. On the front line, Carr bears witness to the ideological conflicts that divided the Republicans and led to their defeat. Land and Freedom was critically lauded and sparked a longstanding collaboration (and marriage) between Scottish screenwriter Paul Laverty and Icíar Bollaín, the Spanish actress/director that plays Maite in the film.

The Trip to Spain (2017)

In Michael Winterbottom’s third instalment of the bickering, ego-fuelled antics of a fictionalised Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon sent on a newspaper assignment to review restaurants together, the duo head to Spain to recreate Coogan’s teenage road trip from Cantabria to Andalusia. Coogan’s hilariously pretentious fantasy of following in the footsteps of Laurie Lee in ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ is offset by Brydon’s whimsical humour, as the pair discover the different faces of Spain and its food culture, visiting Aragon, Rioja and Castile along the way.


T2: Trainspotting review

Written for the Glasgow Guardian:

In 1996, Danny Boyle was at the top of his game. A young and hungry Mancunian director with an eye for vibrant, dynamic visuals that drew inspiration from the likes of Kubrick, and an ear for iconic, on-the-pulse soundtracks, his sophomore film Trainspotting was his calling card, launching not just his career but those of everyone involved – not least the young Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald. The cultural impact of the film can’t be overstated; adapted from “post acid house” writer Irvine Welsh’s shattering debut novel, it’s far more than a film about junkies – it’s still an important reference point today for cinematic style and culture, capturing the zeitgeist in a way no major film before or since has really achieved.


So news of a sequel brought to mind a quote from Trainspotting: “You’ve got it, then you lose it”, opines Jonny Lee Miller’s Sick Boy before pontificating on the inevitable downward trajectory of Lou Reed, David Niven and Malcolm McLaren. Even the greatest artists, he believes, are doomed to mediocrity. It would be easy to take that musing and use it to cast doubt on the credibility of a follow-up – the idea that “we all get old and then we can’t hack it any more” was always going to loom large over the sequel to a cultural phenomenon made in the filmmakers’ prime.

It’s testament to the shrewdness of Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge that rather than running away from this inherent problem, they make it the focus of the new film. While the surface elements of Trainspotting are all there – drugs, disastrous sex, beatings, thieving, scheming, Hibs, Adidas and Underworld – T2: Trainspotting is an entirely different creation. It’s a film about ageing, decay, failure and disappointment, with both the characters that inhabit the film and those behind the camera all too aware of their former glory and virility.

When we catch up with the main cast, we find that, just as Sick Boy predicted, they’ve all in some sense “lost it”. Spud has never managed to stay off smack, Begbie’s been stewing in jail for twenty years, and Sick Boy has given up his lofty ambitions to make it as a pimp and pusher to run his auntie’s pub, with a sideline in filming and extorting prostitutes’ clients. Even Renton, the one member of the gang who’s supposed to have realised his dreams and escaped to a better life in Amsterdam, finds his world crumbling around him, his unexpected redundancy and failed marriage driving him back to Edinburgh. He soon reconnects with his old friends, but things start to fall apart when Begbie escapes from prison and catches wind of Renton’s return, and the film becomes a violent game of cat and mouse.

It’s to T2’s credit that it doesn’t try in vain to live up to its predecessor in terms of having a lasting impact on the wider culture. A soundtrack heavily featuring Edinburgh’s Young Fathers doesn’t pack the same punch, and the cast don’t have the same striking look this time around. The fact that the music and wardrobe choices are slightly out of touch with contemporary youth culture is fitting: this is 2017 seen through the eyes of four middle-aged men, and when in one scene they step into an Edinburgh club full of teenagers, they look exactly as they should: bewildered. Renton wears bootcut jeans and still listens to Iggy Pop, and Sick Boy obsesses over old videos of George Best playing for Hibs. As the latter’s younger girlfriend Veronika notifies them, the pair are trapped in the past. Times have changed and left them behind.

Where the film succeeds most is in its portrayal of the things that really haven’t changed since the first instalment; a scene in which Renton and Sick Boy infiltrate a Protestant sectarian pub to steal the patrons’ credit cards (all of whose pins are 1690) and end up having to improvise a chant about the Battle of the Boyne recaptures some of the energy of the original without harking back to it.

And for fans of Trainspotting, there is of course a magic in watching these characters simply interact again. In interviews the stars have readily admitted a special attachment to their roles in the franchise that made their names, and it shows – there’s a sense that some of the cast are giving the performance of their lives. Robert Carlyle, in particular, manages to balance that trademark menace with big laughs and unexpected pathos, his dual unchecked rage and pacifying regret perfectly encapsulating the ideas behind the sequel while reminding us what made the original so great.

Some of Lou Reed’s solo stuff’s not bad, and owing to an inventive concept and stellar performances, neither is this. Though it would be an impossible task to better Trainspotting, that isn’t the intention here – T2 is a worthy addition to the legacy that always looks back with reverence at the film that started it all.


Madrid International Film Festival 2015: the guide

Written for The Local:

The Madrid International Film Festival returns this week with a programme of independent films from Europe, America, Australia and beyond. The event is run by Film Festival International, who also direct sister festivals in St Tropez, Milan and Tenerife. Still in its infancy, the Madrid IFF was founded in 2012, this year marking its fourth edition.
lee scratch perry
The entire event will be held from July 2nd to July 11th at the arty Dormirdcine hotel, where all-day screenings, networking sessions and masterclasses will culminate in an awards night where the filmmakers will compete for prizes in the Best Film, Best Director and Best Lead Actor categories, among others. The candidates will also have the chance to try and sell their films, as seasoned film distributors are among the industry players who will be in attendance.

This year’s nominees, in a truly eclectic roster of films, include:

Ballet 422 – Best Film
ballet 422
Jody Lee Lipes’ fly-on-the-wall documentary follows young choreographer Justin Peck as he makes his debut creating an original show for the New York City Ballet – the company’s 422nd. In the vein of The September Issue and Dior and I, the film is an intimate account of the peaks and troughs of the creative process – over 72 minutes, the audience bears witness to one man’s vision carried painstakingly through to completion.

Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise – Best Documentary Feature
Filmed over thirteen years, German director Volker Schaner’s Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise is an intimate portrait of the Jamaican reggae artist as he discovers the meaning of life, love, music and everything in between.

A Tangled Web – Best Original Screenplay
JP Thomas’ noir-tinged whodunit, set in the sun-drenched suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas, is up for Best Original Screenplay at MIFF thanks to its inventive premise and labyrinthine plotting.

The Last Night – Best Original Screenplay of a Short Film
the last nite
The Last Night, a timely and relevant short from director David Strong, centres around a single night during which a UN peacekeeper attempts to negotiate with an insurgent leader in Afghanistan. Equal parts empathetic and critical towards the west’s presence in the war-torn nation, Strong draws on his own experiences in the military to create an authentic and nuanced snapshot of international communications in the Middle East.

Seven Lucky Gods – Best Film
 Also up for Best Film is Jamil Dehlavi’s thriller about an Albanian immigrant who falls in with a group of British elites and changes their lives forever. Not much has been said about the film, but its absorbing trailer and several nominations make it look set to be a festival highlight.