Our Ladies ***
Starring: Abigail Lawrie, Rona Morrison, Marli Siu, Tallulah Grieve, Sally Messham, Eve Austin, Kate Dickie
Director: Michael Caton-Jones
When the Scottish comedy play ‘Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour’ debuted in August 2015 to universal acclaim, the adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel ‘The Sopranos’ was an audience hit on its UK tour and West End run, winning an Olivier for Best New Comedy. Its movie adaptation was set for release in spring 2020, but the ensuing Covid pandemic saw its release date pushed back multiple times, until it has finally found a UK cinematic release this weekend.
Following a group of schoolgirls who attend the Catholic school Our Lady Of Perpetual Succour in Fort William, five best friends travel to Edinburgh on a school trip to compete in a national choir competition. Under the watchful eye of Sister Condon (Dickie – Prometheus, Game Of Thrones), the girls enjoy their free time in the city before the competition, changing out of their uniforms and heading straight to whatever bar will let them in for a riotous day of drunken debauchery.
Set in the late 90s, the film is told through the eyes of Orla (Greive – Cinderella), who recently miraculous recovered from leukaemia after a trip to Lourdes. Best friends headstrong Manda (Messham – Allied, Artemis Fowl) and Finnoula (Lawrie – The Man With The Iron Heart) have recently been drifting apart, but the latter manages to slip away from the group to find a lesbian bar, where she bumps into Kay (Austin – The Athena) the class goody-two-shoes. Elsewhere, manipulative and talented singer Kylah (Siu – Run) is trying to leave her band, while grieving Chell (Morison – Absentia) is just out for a good time.
This ensemble comedy is great as a character piece, with each of the six girls well-developed. Each of the stories exist well individually, but are woven well together to create the multi-faceted narrative about this one day in their lives. Orla’s story sits as the emotional heart, while the entire group’s escapades serve as the framework in which we see snapshots of each of their lives. And it works as a coming-of-age movie, but as a comedy?
The original play is an unruly and uncouth hilarious piece of theatre because of its energetic and exaggerated multi-roling and slapstick. The material lends itself well to the stage, but in transitioning to screen it loses the elements that made it so good in a theatre. The realism of cinema – and director Caton-Jones (Rob Roy, Basic Instinct 2) really is going for 90s nostalgic realism – means that we’ve lost the exaggeration and we’ve lost the multi-roling, which means that the elements that were funny simply for seeing actresses snap back and forth between roles is gone. Instead, we’re left with an array of supporting characters that fail to deliver the comic punchlines that the film needs. Instead, we’re left with a series of bizarre scenarios and encounters that feel unsettling instead of funny.
As someone who grew up in a rural town in the 90s, I completely recognise that excited teenage urgency that would always come from visiting a big city unsupervised for a limited time. And the film does well in depicting just how wild teenagers can go when let off the leash, but as a result the characters end up not that likeable. In fact, Finnoula’s coming out story is probably the most relatable of them all. Even Orla’s cancer storyline wanders into the realms of peculiarity at times, which falters because of its failure at trying to be funny.
Our Ladies should have been a roaring success, but succeeds only moderately. It’s fun, for sure, but it’s not the uproarious comedy triumph that we were waiting for.
UK Release: Out Now in cinemas, released by Sony Pictures