Boys Clothing in Scottish Films

Figure 1.--This scene from "My Life So Far" shows a boy in his kilt which he wore to church and for other dress occassions.

HBC know of a fews films about, but not very many. One of our favorites is "The Green Years", based on the A.J. Cronin book. Another interesting film is "Wee Geordie". Scotland has only a small film industry. Many films about Scotland were in fact made by foreign film makers. Some readers have complained that our list does not include some Scottish staples, but remember we are focusing on films that illuminate children and the clothing they wore. Until the 1970s,most films about Scotland were basically made by American or English companies and often romantizied Scotland. SBeginning in the 1970s, films made in Scotland appeared with a harder edge. Here Bill Douglas played a major role in devloping these new Scottish films. Even so, the best known film about Scotland is "Braveheart" made by an america production--perhaps explaining why Stirling Bridgewas left out of the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Scottish Film Industry

Scotland has only a small film industry. Many films about Scotland have been made by foreign film makers, mostly English and American. At the start of the 20th century the Scottish industry was strong. There is now an active campaign to preserve these early films - unfortuneately many are already lost to us. They are a unique record of society. With costume as with other things depicted we need to remember that these are actors and directors and so need to compare what we see on the screen with photographs,contemporary writing etc., but despite their limitations, they are an invaluable record. Letters are always good if you can find them as people tend to be less guarded in them. World War I dealt the industry a blow, but it survived. Glasgow was in the forefront from the start, but lost it's preminence in the 1920s. Some of the best known films about Scotland ("The Thirty-nine Steps", "Braveheart", etc.) gave a false impression of Scotland. That's why the Bill Douglas trilogy and films like "Ratcatcher" are so important.

Individual Films

Here are the most important Scottish that we know about which depict boys clothing to varying degrees.

(The) Bill Douglas Trilogy - (Scotland, 1972-78)

We have not seen these films, but HBC readers have mnentioned them to us. Hopefully HBC readers will provide more details on the films. Bill Douglas (1934-91) is Scotland's most aclaimed film maker. His autobiographical trilogy is a seminal work in the Scottish cinema. There are few really classic Scottish works to compare with it. Douglas was born in Newcraighall, a depressed miming village near Edinburgh. His boyhood experiences are startkly depicted in his film. The trilogy deals with his youth from 8-18 years of age. The first part of the trilogy, "My Childhood" (1971) is of greatest interest to HBC. The two boys with the lead roles are not porofessional actors. The main character, Jamie, is wonderfully played by Stephen Archibald. Douglas found Stephen and his brother (cast as Tommy) when the two boys approached him for cigarettes in an Edinburgh bus station. Jamie is growing up in a mining village during the 1940s. There is little money, food, are affection. Jamie lives in squalor with his half-brother Tommy and elderly grandmother, a true Dickensian figure. There are some perrt gritty scenes. Tommy’s father brings home a rare gift--a canary. When the cat eats the canary, Tommy beats the cat to death. The Douglas production has sparse dialogue, using visual images to make his point. A reviewer describes " ... haunting and often dreamlike expressions of a harsh emotional landscape". The other two films in the trilogy are "My Ain Folk" (1973) and "My Way Home" (1978). In "My Ain Folk" Tommy is taken into care by welfare workers. Jamie escapes but leads a stark existence until he is also taken into care.

Braveheart - (United States, 1999)

This has become the most famous and most popiular film about Scotland. It is a well made film, but historical accuracy is important to me. I am skeptical about any film depicting the Battle of Stirlin Bridge without the bridge. This is no small deletion because the bridge was the key to the Scottish victory. A Scottish reader writes, " Whatever it's historical inaccuracies in other respects "Braveheart" does depict the clothes worn by the boy Wallace in 13th century Scotland - and no it wasn't a kilt!"

Brigadoon - (United States, 1954)

This Vincente Minnelli film until "Braveheart" was the film about Scotland that most readily came to American minds. It is a beautiufully filmed costume musical. A New Yorker played Gene Kelly gets lost in Scottish Highlands. He happens upon a village which only appears only once every 100 year. The music is memorable. The most famous song is "Almost Like Being in Love". The film was shot in Hollywood rather than Scotland. He complained that he could not find any locations in Scotland that looked Scottish enough.

(The) Green Years - (US, 1946)

Lovely movie based on the A.J. Cronin novel about a Irish orphan who comes to live with aunt's family in protestant Scotland. His grandmother makes him a suit out of curtains and he is teased. His best friend (Gavin) is seen wearing a kilt. The boys have a strict schoolmaster. One of the boys is played by Dean Stockwell. This is a real classic, well worth seeing.

Gregory’s Girl - (Scotland, 1981)

"Gregory's Girl" is one of the best known Scottish films. It is a wonderful fil about the teenage experience in Scotland. The main characters are played by Gordon Sinclair and Dee Hepburn. Gregory (Sinclair) is goalie on the school football (soccer) team. He is terrible, as is the team. Dorothy (Hepburn) supports him and there developing relationship is the center piece of the film.

Huntingtowers - (Scotland, 1927)

The John Buchan spy novel Huntingtower (1922) was made into a silent film starring Sir Harry Lauder, a very famous Glaswegian music hall star. It's interesting that they used local boys then as they did for "Ratcatcher" (1999). Unfortuneately the film has been lost. The book was later made into a popular Scottish TV series, "The Gorbals Die-Hards" (Scotland, 1978). As the film is lost, we are not sure how they were costumed. A surviving poster suggests the boys were wearing bits and pieces of the Scout uniform, a make-shift kilt, and short trousers--just as Buchan described in his book. The boys were Scottish - from the Gorbals area of Glasgow. The film was shot by a Scottish production company on location in Scotland with a Scottish film crew, but they had to use the studios for the interior scenes in London because the Glasgow studios had gone bust. They took the Glasgow boys down to the London Cricklewood studio to do the filming. A Scottish reader writes, "The 1927 version of "Huntingtower" was a silent film so the boys' glorious Glasgow accents were not captured by the film. This makes it even more remarkable that they used local boys. Being a silent film obviously highlights the visual aspect and therefore the costuming. I'm going to try to find out if there are any contemporary reviews of the film to see if the costuming is mentioned." Also the film studio at Rouken Glen (an old tramshed south of Glasgow) had closed in 1924 so maybe that's why they went down to London."

My Life So Far - (Scotland, 1999)

Scottish film My Life so Far was filmed in Argyll at Ardkinglas House and around Loch Fyne. The film is the memoir of family in post World War I era. The family lives on an estate and is headed headed up by a strong disciplinarian matriarch (Rosemary Harris). The family includes her daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), her inventor husband (Colin Firth), their 10-year old son (Robbie Norman), and his older sister (Kelly MacDonald). Through the household comes a number of suitors hoping to impress the young woman, including a flyer (Tcheky Karyo). The elder woman's son (Malcolm MacDowell) shows up at the estate with of all things, a French maid (Irene Jacob)--throwing the family into turmoil. The young boy is smitten with her and his father is disturbed by his own feelings. The boys wear short trousers and kilts, usually with bkazers and coat jackets.

(The) Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Scotland, 1969)

The film was directed by Ronald Neame. It is only right that this portrait of Edinburgh, in all its unashamed middle-class glory, should be included in any list of the creme de la creme of Scottish films, alongside films about proletarian Glaswegians and romantic Highlanders. Miss Brodie sees herself as a beacon of culture in the stuffy traditional school where she teaches, instilling in her girls an appreciation not just of Italian artists, but of Italian fascism. She is in her own way as narrow-minded and snobbish as anyone at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, and much more dangerous. Maggie Smith won an Oscar for her performance, and Rod McKuen’s theme tune remains a dry-throated classic, but the film owes much to its Edinburgh locations, the spirit of which it captures perfectly. It's set in a girl's school,but there are boys in it too (the teacher tries to keep the girls from mixing with them ! )The boys in the film are from exclusive private schools in Edinburgh - which still exist - so wear elaborate uniforms but the film is mainly about the girls.This is a very diffferent Edinburgh to that of "Trainspotting" ! - both in the locations shown and the costume.

Ratcatcher (Scotland, 1999)

A Scottish reader writes, "Another filmt hat you should probably include in your list of scottish films--"Ratcatcher". It is another film influenced by Bill Douglas' trilogy. It displays boys in Glasgow during the 1970s: "bomber" jackets or parka-type coats, proper buttton-up shirts ( t-shirts were sloppy, unless worn as vests under the shirt), jeans and short hair. Jersey's were for Mummies-boys - but it was good to have a warm coat - with fur and a hood - especially if you'd given your hair the wet-look and then it turned out freezing. I think the costuming was very accurate for the time. One odd thing - in the Guardian review "Poetry from the Rubbish Tip" - it mention's James being made to wear his dead friend's Clarkes sandals. I recall those sandals - but not for a 12-year old if he wanted to avoid a roasting from his pals (in Edinburgh maybe, but not Glasgow). Maybe I missed out on this, or the other boys mum was trying to spruce him up. Not all Scottish films are so drear - some just show another side of life - and, for HBC's purposes, do record changing fashion.

Small Faces - (Scotland, 1995)

This rites of passage journey, set in 1968 Glasgow, directed by Gillies MacKinnon and co-written by his brother Billy, follows three brothers (JS Duffy, Joseph McFadden and Iain Robertson) as they make decisions about where their loyalties and ambitions lie in between relationships, peer pressure and tribal warfare. MacKinnon always has been regarded as a masterful director of actors, and none more so than here. His portrait is uncompromising, honest, and above all invested with a questing intelligence. The costume here shows the Glasgow street gangs clobber of the time, as well as the clothes younger boys were wearing - which was different to that in "Ratcatcher" set 15 years later so does show historical change in fashions.

(The) Three Lives of Thomasina - (US/UK, 1963)

We always thought that cats had nine lives, but apparently Thomasina only gets three. The Disney film, The Three Lives of Thomascina reminds one of Pollyana. The little girl in Thomasina is not as engaging as Haley Mills, but it nonetheless a wonderfull film. It is a sentimental, early 20th century story which provides an interesting view of what Scottish children were wearing. The actual date is 1912 I am not sure, however, how accurate the fashion depiction is. The film is based on Paul Gallico’s book Thomasina. It is a lovely little Disney movie set in Scotland. A bit soppy, especially the ending, but worth seeing. The story line follows the tribulation of a little girl's tabby cat. The main character is a little girl. Three boys play prominent roles. The older boy appears to be 13 or 14 and still wears a short pants suit, although the shorts are very long. Some boys wear knickers. Two of the boys also appear in dressy kilt outfits. They all dress up smartly for Thomasina's funeral. One of the boys is the younger boy in Bed Knobs and Broomsticks.

Trainspotting - (Scotland, 1996)

"Trainspotting" is a charming, realistic look ar Scotland. The film was made by Boyle, Macdonald and Hodge and based on Irvine Welsh’s cult novel. The film is set in Edinburgh, but not the charming Edinburgh that tourists see. The film shows the gritty side of the city. The film captures the blck comedy of the book. Trainspotting is unknown in America--at least before he film. Each train has a number and train lover would spend hours in stations and along tracks adding new trains to the ones they have spotted--rather like bird watching without the tramping around the county. The film is not, however, actually about that hobby. The joke of the title is that no trains have left the old Leith Central Station for decades, but the fact that working-class Edinburgh is invisible to New Town professionals is a cliche as old as the city itself.

Venus Peter - (Scotland, 1989)

"Venus Peter" is another Scottish film which would portray Scottish boys' clothing - not in cities this time but up in the Isles. The director was Ian Sellar. A marvelous evocation of a childhood imagination taking flights in a small fishing community. Filmed in Orkney, but based on Christopher Rush’s semi-autobiographical "Twelve Months and a Day", set in St Monans, it marked the first collaboration of producer Christopher Young and director Ian Sellar. Peter (Gordon R Strachan) leads a magical existence, brought up by his grandfather (Ray McAnally) and taught about life and beauty by his teacher (Sinead Cusack), all against a background of an inbred and insular community. Intriguing and touching. I haven't seen it yet - but boys clothes in rural Scotland would be more rough and ready than in the cities - I don't know when it's set but many would help out unloading the catch when the fishing boats returned in a setting such as above,like the kids would help out with the berry picking in inland villages. They might have a best outfit for the church back then,but not for school. The contrast is Edinburgh in the 1930's as portrayed in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" -

Wee Geordie - (UK, 1955)

Charming little British film about a skinny little Scottish boy, who everyone calls Wee Geordie. He is pictured as a boy 10-years of age and of course wears nice shorts, cords I think. He is picked on by the other boys at school who chase him and tease him. His only friend appears to be a little girl. Geordie has a lovely Scottish accent and is a very sweet little boy. Unfortunately the sequences with him as a boy only take up a part at the beginning of the film, but there is a substantial sequence. He sends off for a body building course and grows up to be a huge strapping lad that shakes the house when he stomps about and towers over his parents. Everyone still, however, continues to call him Wee Geordie.

Whisky Galore! - (England, 1949)

The opening voiceover introduction of "Whisky Galore!" describes "A happy people with few and simple pleasures." One the screen nine children appear in sucessive order through a crofthouse door. Mackendrick’s comedy is set on the fictitious island of Todday. This was one of the clasic films of the Ealing studio, but was shot on location at Barra, Critics have carped that the film is stereotypical and patronising. They are reasonably correct about this, but the film is also is enjoyably humerous. a ship runs aground and the islanders try to salvage thousands of cases of whiskey was onboard. A Celtic criminal gang has to outwit the English Home Guard. The film was shown in America as "Tight Little Island". The film is based on a book by Compton Mackenzie and the actual grounding of the SS Politician off Eriskay.

Reader Comments

"I'm not a mad Scots nationalist but I do think it important for people to hang on to their National identity and this is often displayed in clothing. It's always a sore point up here when we're portrayed as being all kilts and sporrans on the one hand and lumped in with England on the other. When we try to do something to remedy that fact, like develop our distinct film industry, the films are often designated as British or U.K. rather than Scottish. The importance of films like "The Bill Douglas Trilogy" and "Ratcatcher" is that they show Scotland from a Scottish point of view in contast to the kilt and claymore portrayals we often see. Kilts of course do have a place in our culture, but we don't walk about in them all the time. I have never worn one as I don't have a tartan--but I'm none the less Scottish for that."


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Created: January 26, 2001
Last updated: March 15, 2004