Donkeys Receives A Rapturous Reception at Edinburgh Film Festival

Day 5 of the Edinburgh Film Festival ended on a high after the gentle delights of Mai Mai Miracle (see earlier blog/review). In the afternoon I attended a Scottish Screen reception on the sunny rooftop of the Delegate Centre which has almost 360° panoramic views of the city. There I ran into Morag McKinnon and Colin McLaren, director and writer of the much anticipated Donkeys which was to receive its world premiere just a few hours later.

Donkeys is McKinnon’s debut feature after a career in commercials, television work and a string of award winning shorts. It is also the 2nd part of the Advance Party Project (APP), a joint venture between Scotland’s Sigma Films (Hallam Foe, Young Adam) and Lars Von Trier’s Danish company Zentropa (Breaking the Waves, The Idiots). More relevantly, the first part of the APP trilogy was Andrea Arnold’s successful and acclaimed debut feature Red Road (a potentially hard act to follow, putting pressure on the second team to succeed but also to make their own mark on it).

Von Trier, a sometimes controversial as well as highly acclaimed director is best known for his ‘Dogme 95’ movement whose manifesto demanded a creative aesthetic achieved via stringent physical restrictions imposed during a film’s production (e.g. you could only use natural light, natural sound and real locations).

The Advance Party Project’s variation on a theme was that three films would be developed, each with a different director making their debut feature and with each film featuring the same cast and or characters. In Donkeys, Kate Dickie and Martin Compston are the chief beneficiaries of this idea as they return with substantial roles but others like Tony Curran have fleeting Hitchcockian cameos.

Although rumours had circulated in advance of a troubled shoot (wow, gosh, which film hasn’t had a troubled shoot?) and although it was clear some of the production team were naturally apprehensive ahead of the public screening they need not have been. The first hints that it was a success started to filter through to McLaren and McKinnon from a trickle of journalists who had been to the well received press screening a few days prior. And now to borrow a cinematic device lets jump cut straight to the end of the screening a few hours after our encounter on the rooftop terrace as the credits begin to roll and the capacity audience isn’t just clapping, they’re cheering. McKinnon and Mclaren along with the film's producers and cast received what felt like a homecoming hero’s welcome. The screening had been a huge success with constant laughter, occasional applause and the odd sniffle being order of the day. You could see the relief coming off their faces in waves.

Although Donkeys isn’t imbued with same cinematic stamp that gave Red Road its edge, Donkeys, a more character driven piece is purely in terms of its script, direction and acting a really great achievement.

James Cosmo gives possibly one of the performances of his career as the comically inept, bumbling and inconsiderate absent father to Kate Dickie’s Jackie. Desperate to reconnect with her due to his age and failing health he deploys a series of dubious and occasionally downright immoral acts to bring him to contact with her. In the best tradition of buddy-movie comedy double acts, Cosmo exploits his equally inept sidekick and best friend (Brian Pettifer) and sets off a chain of events bringing about a resolution of sorts, but not before leaving a trail of emotional wreckage behind him in the lives of all the films intertwined characters.

With a sharp, hilarious and very ‘Scottish’ screenplay and a fine job made of balancing the near slapstick humour with real pathos, tragic twists of fate (and of course a good old fashioned healthy undercurrent of repressed pain), Donkeys is a brilliant black comedy of very original proportions with tremendous performances all round. McKinnon and McLaren will be another double act to keep an eye on in the future.

Showing again today at 1.15pm in Filmhouse 2.