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Orphans (1998, Douglas Henshall, Gary Lewis)

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‘Glasgow is full of guns’, says one character in Mullan’s extraordinary first feature, ‘but no ammunition.’ That spiked humour toppling into tragedy is what drives Orphans, a British production with funding from FilmFour, into a compelling black comedy set over one single, turbulent night.

The night before his mother’s funeral, Thomas Flynn (Gary Lewis) hosts a tribute in a Glasgow pub. Siblings Michael (Douglas Henshall), John (Stephen McCole) and Sheila (Rosemarie Stevenson) are with him, and when the wake is disrupted by local boy Duncan (Malcolm Shields), a fight breaks out and Michael is stabbed. His brother John swears vengeance and sets out to buy a gun.

Thomas spends the night in the church with the coffin, and refuses to escort Sheila, who is in a wheelchair, home, forcing her to rely on a stranger for rescue. Local madman Tanga (Frank Gallagher) provides John with a gun, but is unable to supply bullets.

Meanwhile Michael has dressed his wounds and visits a pub where he protests when insulted by the landlord, only to find himself locked in the cellar for the night. With hours to go before the funeral, the family will need to settle their differences, mourn their mother and plan the future.

Mullan is no stranger to edgy realism. As an actor he appeared in Trainspotting and Braveheart and more recently the FilmFour-funded My Name Is Joe. Behind the camera his short films include Fridge, the brutal tale of two alcoholics attempting to save a child (it won 15 international awards). Lacking ego, he has the instant credibility of Ricky Tomlinson, and matches him as one of Ken Loach’s regular players.

‘A film like this, whose principal mechanism is emotion, is unusual,’ claims the director. ‘And hopefully a small step towards a different kind of film-making.’ Critics agreed, with the Venice Film Festival awarding him four separate trophies and the Evening Standard labelling him Best Newcomer.

production details
UK| 101 minutes | 1998

Writer and Director: Peter Mullan

cast
Douglas Henshall as Michael
Gary Lewis as Thomas
Rosemarie Stevenson as Sheila
Stephen McCole as John
Ann Swan as Mother of Family
Frank Gallagher as Tanga
Alex Norton as Hanson
Dave Anderson as Uncle Ian
Malcolm Shields as DD Duncan
Laura O’Donnell as Carole
John Comerford as Ed, Carole’s Dad
Deirdre Davis as Alison, Carole’s Mum
Eric Barlow as Mr Bell
Frances Carrigan as Mrs Bell
Judith A. Williams as Amanda, Babysitter
Sheila Donald as Mrs Finch
Maureen Carr as Minnie
Laurie Ventry as Henry
Steven Singleton as Seamus
Seamus Ball as Father Fitzgerald
Sarah Hepburn as Louise, Carole’s Sister
Martha Leishman as Alice