Scots mining movie The Happy Lands snubbed by “snobby” Edinburgh cinema bosses


A MOVIE about heroic Scottish miners has been snubbed by “snobbish” Edinburgh cinema bosses – despite winning worldwide acclaim.

‘The Happy Lands’ is set during the devastating mining strike of 1926 and follows affected families from villages in Fife – and the working-class heroes who fought for better conditions.

The film won plaudits at its Glasgow Film Festival debut last month, has been selling out theatres at the Rennes Film Festival, France, and has been invited to take part in the Beijing Festival next month.

Jocky Wallace who plays Dan Guthrie in the movie.
Jokie Wallace who plays Dan Guthrie in the movie.


But back in Scotland, organisers of the Edinburgh Film Festival, the Filmhouse cinema, have rejected the movie, saying it is not of “necessary quality”.

The Bafta-nominated film, set in Lochgelly, Fife, stars local residents on screen and off, recruited by Theatre Workshop Scotland, to tell about the region’s mining history.

Director Robert Rae and his team spent four years assembling and training the volunteers and bringing the drama to the big screen.

The true-life tales, which have former PM Gordon Brown’s backing, will be shown to politicians at a private screening next month in the House of Commons.


Bosses at Edinburgh Filmhouse refused a screening
Bosses at Edinburgh Filmhouse refused a screening


Director Rae claimed there was an element of snobbery behind the decision, claiming the film would sell out theatres in Scotland’s capital.

He said: “Parts of the film industry are kind of aloof about it, maybe even threatened by it.

“Incredible really, given that it’s selling out everywhere, and would do so in Edinburgh.

“I think it’s because they can’t get their heads around that fact that a film concentrated with a community could be as technically and cinematically as good as it is.

“There is something in the fact that it was shown at the Glasgow film festival, but not in Edinburgh. Glasgow festival is very much audience-focussed, and it is a film that audiences really love.

“I think there is a certain type of snobbery in Edinburgh, there is a sort of sense that this is a film about the working class, and I don’t know the backgrounds of the programmers at the Filmhouse, but it may be that they don’t come from a mining background.

“The programmers actually only watched it for an hour.

“It’s frustrating, because I know that audiences love it. From my perspective the Filmhouse is denying its audience the chance to watch and very powerful and unique film experience.”


The film is set in Fife in the 1920s
The film is set in Fife in the 1920s


One of the stars of the film, Bafta-nominated Jokie Wallace, who comes from a family of miners, said: “It’s disappointing that Edinburgh audiences aren’t going to see the film. There are a lot of ex-miners who live in areas surrounding Edinburgh.

“The film has been successful everywhere it has been shown. During the Glasgow film festival they held it back for an extra day and showed it at the Cineworld.

“It’s a film that affects a lot of people. I think it’s very sad that it would get shown in Edinburgh.”

Tony Garnett, who produced Kes and Cathy Come Home, said that The Happy Lands was good enough to appear at the festival.

He said: “I’m still not sure that everyone appreciates just how significant the film is, a permanent testimony to an important moment which deserves to live forever.

“It is the working class telling working class history. This is rare and valuable.”

Around 1,000 local people were involved in making the movie, both onscreen and off.

It was funded by the National Lottery and BBC Scotland.

The amateur cast used real-life experience and passed down tales, to portray the troubled times in Scotland’s mining villages.

David Elliot, director of arts at the British Council in China, where the film will be shown next month, said: “It’s a fine film, beautifully shot and very moving.

“The acting is excellent, amazing given that the cast are the villagers themselves.

“But given that most of them are direct relatives of the mining community from 1926, perhaps this closeness lent an authenticity that professional actors might have struggled with.”


Director Robert Rae
Director Robert Rae


A spokesman for the Filmhouse cinema, that host the Edinburgh Film Festival, said it stood by its decision to reject the film.

He said: “We watched the film with a view to considering it for public screening at the Filmhouse, but did not deem it of the necessary quality to put in front of a ticket-buying audience within the context of our regular programme.”

Jayne Baxter, Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife said: “I am proud to be a grand-daughter of a miner and this is just daft.

“I believe this film is clearly good enough for film festivals in Glasgow, Rennes and Beijing and sell- out audiences across Scotland and the rest of the UK have been buying tickets for this film.

“People are flocking to see The Happy Lands because it resonates with real people and their experiences.

“It’s not sentimental at all yet the film is generating a huge emotional response from people – it resonates with what is happening to them and their communities right now.

“It clearly speaks to people in Scotland and around the world. I don’t know what’s not to value, appreciate and admire in this film.”



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  1. I think this is a huge loss for Edinburgh Film Festival. The film screened in Kirkcaldy and was a sell out at all performances. The Adam Smith theatre actually offered the film on an extra night because of the high demand for tickets – not only that they commented that they could have had a sell out 2 or 3 times over. This is a wonderful depiction of life in the 1920’s and, although performed by amateurs, is of extremely high quality. It must be, when Glasgow Film Festival and the Beijing Film Festival were/are prepared to host it. All across the UK The Happy Lands is selling out – perhaps Edinburgh you should look at it again. Have you not noticed Edinburgh – that there is a BAFTA nomination here?

  2. Does the fact it’s local be enough to buy its admission into the EIFF? They were daft enough to let Fast Romance a couple of years ago, a low budget Glasgow pic put together by pals of a fight co-ordinator.
    It was awful, the film called pelters from reviewers but they managed to sell out in Cineworld for a week and finagled an open vote Scottish Bafta audience award, via a co-ordinated campaign that other film entrants weren’t organised enough to match.
    Happy Lands was screened at the Glasgow Film festival, so it got its showcase. And it was made by the BBC, so it’s going to be on TV soon enough

  3. As someone who regularly attends the Filmhouse and has already watched ‘The Happy Lands’ I would say this article is completely biased. Selling out in Community Halls in traditional mining villages is one thing, however, expecting regular Filmhousers to sit through this film is something else.
    The mix of amatuer actors gave an uneven result and coupled with the limited talents of its Director and Producer I can see why the Filmhouse did not show this film.
    Mark Brown of The Glasgow Herald wrote what thought was a very accurate review of the film (see link below).

    • Steven, I don’t know you but I think YOU’re completely biased. You made the same comment and plugged that review a month ago on the Glasgow Film Theatre website. Whose cinema is next? If you didn’t like the film when you (presumably) saw it in Glasgow, why are you popping up here too?

      While we’re doing comparisons, George Bernard Brown and (by implication) you, completely miss the point. Matewan isn’t really comparable, is it? You can’t call it made-by-amateurs in the way that Happy Lands is. You can’t call it a community feature. Was there ever such a thing until this film? Bits here and there – Soviet typage, Neorealism, Pasolini, Bill Douglas. If there’s unevenness in those films it’s in the service of authenticity. So it is with The Happy Lands.

      But was there ever a whole film that does what this film does? Show me. Lenin called cinema the most powerful of the arts. Here’s a film where people, who are normally represented by others who ‘know better’, represent themselves. It’s direct democracy in high definition, in process, form and content.

      GBB also refers to overloaded didacticism. I suppose it comes down to how much you care about what the film is trying to say. If you don’t care much about it, especially in this day and age, I don’t really care much about you. He refers to Land and Freedom. I can’t think of a more didactic film (think of the debate scenes). I mean that as a compliment, of course.

      The Filmhouse Blimps have shown staggering ignorance and preciousness in deliberately blacklisting this film. The passion and dedication of the cast and crew come through in bundles. That’s invigorating but isn’t a guarantee of quality, of course. The quality comes in the genuinely moving and intimate human moments wrung from a such complex ensemble structure. The film takes sides but never in a black and white way. It casts an ironic eye over true stories told. It’s also chock full of references to literature and classic cinema (let them find them). It sold out at the GFT (Glasgow Film Festival) and was described as the hit of the Film Festival at Rennes. Extra performances had to be put on in both cases. They’re both Community Halls, incidentally.

      The Filmhouse cognoscenti should remember that their Community Hall stands in a city that was once surrounded by miles of mine-land. The denizens of these places did virtually the same things and spoke almost exactly the same way as the protagonists do in The Happy Lands. Check up at the Uni if you doubt it.

      Your unmannerly remarks about the director (Robert Rae) and the producer (Helen Trew) are derisory and say more about you. Who else would have the courage and vision to dream this film up and see it through to the end, with such endowment?

      Apparently, there have been standing ovations after almost all of the showings, including at Rennes. I experienced one and I haven’t experienced anything like it since I was a child, and that was rare even then.

      Face it. The film sells out wherever it plays. I’ve seen a few films up Lothian Road this month and I’ve looked through the catalogue. There’s some real, dismal dross mingling with the good stuff. Having made their judgement about The Happy Lands, it’s clear the Filmhouse patricians don’t know their Pabst from their pabulum. But do they no like making money?

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