Scotland on film: The Angel’s Share – lost in translation

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By Andrew Barr

Award winning film director Ken Loach has slammed the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) after it deemed typical West of Scotland working class speech offensive.

Mr Loach criticised the board after parts of the film’s soundtrack had to be edited out in order to obtain a 15 certificate.

By Andrew Barr

Award winning film director Ken Loach has slammed the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) after it deemed typical West of Scotland working class speech offensive.

Mr Loach criticised the board after parts of the film’s soundtrack had to be edited out in order to obtain a 15 certificate.

Director Ken Loach said the BBFC should be concerned with “the manipulative and deceitful language of politics” rather than “our ancient oaths and swear words”.

Loach’s new bitter sweet comedy, The Angel’s Share, is set to leave behind the traditional romantics of on-screen Scotland for a fresh look at the realities of modern Scottish life.

The film tells the story of a Scottish ‘underclass’, with young offender Robbie endeavouring to re-enter society with his girlfriend Leonie and newborn son, Luke.

It celebrates all the authenticities of Scottish working-class identity but has attracted calls for change from the British Board of Film Classification who have requested that some of the language content is cut.

The BBFC asks that in order for The Angel’s Share to be awarded a 15 certificate, it should edit out language which could be deemed offensive.

However the film’s director criticised what he labelled an “obsession” by the British middle class with language.

Mr Loach added: “The British middle class is obsessed by what they call bad language.  But of course bad language is manipulative language.

“They’re very happy with that.  But the odd oath, like a word that goes back to Chaucer’s time, they ask you to cut.”

Rebecca O’Brian, the film’s producer, pointed out that some films which had even included gruesome scenes of torture had been awarded a 15 certificate, whereas the “natural” language spoken by Scotland’s young people was being unfairly censored.

She said: “If they’re looking for diversity in Britain they should look no further than this film and Glasgow and see that there are different ways of speaking and see that that should be acceptable to all and sundry and should not be censored.”

Language has also caused problems at the Cannes Film Festival screening on Monday, with English subtitles being used for the benefit of the local audience.  However, Loach insisted there would be no subtitles for the UK release.

“They were for the benefit of those for whom English is not their first language,” he said, adding: “We did fight the matter quite hard because it’s perfectly comprehensible.”

Staying close to the struggles and realities of modern Scotland, the film stars real-life ex-offender Paul Brannigan as the protagonist, Robbie.

At the Cannes Film Festival, 24-year-old Brannigan spoke about how his casting in the film had saved his life.

He said: “Things were tough, I had no money.  It was Christmas time and I got a loan which I wanted to pay back.  I had nowhere to turn, who knows what I’d have done for money.

“I thought, ‘Well, if I make a couple of hundred quid out of this, that will see me through.’

“Hands up, I would say they probably saved my life.  But after this, I’m unemployed.  I do four hours a week football coaching and that’s just the way it is now.”

Brannigan went on to comment on how widespread his experience was in Scotland, saying: “I’m very familiar with the situation in this film.  My background was quite rough.  But, in all honesty, there are thousands and thousands of kids like Robbie with the same story.”

The Angel’s Share, to be released in the UK on Friday the 1st of June, now joins a great list of Scottish creations which have caused controversy amongst the cultural or political British establishment.

Influential working-class Scottish writer James Kelman, who recently came out in favour of Scottish independence, said that Scottishness can often act as a “disqualification” in British arts.

He said: “Since the 18th century the cultural and linguistic movement of the Scottish bourgeoisie and ruling elite is total assimilation to Britishness where Englishness is the controlling interest.  Scotland has its own languages too, and these are ‘living languages’, kept alive by people using them who, generally, are working class.  Scottish literary artists have worked in these languages for centuries.”

With the coming independence referendum in 2014, it has been expected by some commentators that cultural and artistic confidence will grow to levels previously unseen in Scotland.

The world of film, writing and music will have an important role to play in how Scotland perceives itself over the next few years, and will be watched closely and keenly by people on all sides of the debate.