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Debt Collector, The (1999, Billy Connolly, Ken Stott)

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The life of reformed criminal, now famed author and artist Jimmy Boyle, is the basis for this searing tale of brutality and rehabilitation, featuring BILLY CONNOLLY as the Edinburgh hardman Nickie Dryden.

An 18-year sentence has tamed the former Edinburgh loan shark and murderer, producing a celebrated writer and artist. The cop who put him there, Gary Keltie (KEN STOTT), has fared less well. Bitter and broken, his resentment of Dryden’s fame and freedom gets him suspended from the force after disrupting the writer’s exhibition. Confronting Val Dryden (FRANCESCA ANNIS) Keltie reveals that her husband used to attack the friends and family of debtors, to encourage payment.

Intrigued by Nickie’s story, young thug Flipper (IAIN ROBERTSON) tries to befriend his new-found hero, and is rebuffed. By coincidence, Dryden’s stepson is murdered soon after, placing suspicion back on Keltie. In the search for vengeance, both men return to the underworld, on a course which could destroy them both…

‘I was placed in this position as a censor,’ said Boyle when he was asked to approve the story in return for yielding the rights. ‘I wasn’t happy about it.’ The former Gorbals hard man offered only tacit support, reserving the right to legal redress, which, in the end, he never exercised.

Connolly had his own battle to fight with the Scottish press, unleashing ‘the black sperm of my vengeance’ on the hostile media who saw parallels with Dryden’s enlightenment and the actor’s American departure. Director Neilson – in his first feature after a controversial theatrical career – survived both distractions to produce a dark, violent and intelligent analysis of reformation and the Glasgow locations (standing in for the Scottish capital as a condition of the Glasgow Film Fund’s participation) are suitably sombre, offering a visual full-stop to the bleak thematic landscape.

production details
UK | 105 minutes | 1999

Writer and Director: Anthony Neilson

cast
Francesca Annis as Val Dryden
Ken Stott as Gary Keltie
Annette Crosbie as Lana
Phil McKee as Tattoo official
Iain Robertson as Flipper
Billy Connolly as Nickie Dryden
Alastair Galbraith as Colquhoun
Ford Kiernan as Janitor
Ronni Ancona as Valerie’s sister

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