It’s had to bide its time for its cinema release, but finally the terrific Our Ladies lands – and here’s our review of a film well worth seeking out.
Living in a small Highland town, going to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour High School; life can get dull when the biggest excitement is the possibility of a submarine full of seamen docking nearby. Luckily in this day in the life of six Catholic schoolgirls, they’re on their way to Edinburgh to perform with the choir. Sister Condron (Kate Dickie) – no prizes for guessing her nickname – has already warned the girls that a big city like Edinburgh is rife with “sinful wickedness” although when pressed on what she might actually mean by men wanting to “use and discard” the girls, she’s lost for words – to much tittering in the playground.
Although it’s very much an ensemble piece, the storytelling of Our Ladies begins with Orla (Tallulah Grieve); her past brush with leukemia has left her ashamed of her short hairstyle and determined to make the most of life (and fulfil her sexual fantasies as soon as possible). She’s accompanied by Finnoula (Abigail Lawrie) whose desire to go her own way may cause ructions with her closest friend, the world-weary Manda (Sally Messham). Kylah (Marli Siu) is the singing star of the group, although she doesn’t see eye-to-eye with her boyfriend Dickie when it comes to their rock band. (While it seems he’s keen to work his way through the entire group of girls, none of them appear to be that bothered if boyfriends are recycled or even shared.) Chell (Rona Morrison) has her fair share of problems, having lost her father and developed her inner wild child as a way to fill that void, as well as being triggered when anyone calls her a tinker. Not that she’d use the word “triggered” because this is the 90s, and the film’s period setting is delightfully authentic, from the Leonardo DiCaprio posters to the platform shoes. (It has a cracking soundtrack, too.) Finally, Kay (Eve Austin) loiters around the edges of the group, apparently wondering why her prissy head girl reputation makes her less than popular among the gang of rebels.
The first priority upon being released from choir preparation in Edinburgh is to dress up, get drunk, and find some men, or “fresh meat” as the girls put it. Their toast of choice is “bottoms up, knickers down” and while they have the voices of angels, they have the sexual appetites of alley cats. No male is safe from them – not even those comatose in hospital beds. If this were an American teen movie, the girls would pinky-promise to seek out men for sex with no strings attached (before inevitably falling in love). If it were a teen horror movie, meeting older men in clubs and going home with them would end in sinister disaster. Being a Scottish film set in the era of the ladette, neither of these things happen. They don’t need to talk about the fact they’re having sex purely for recreational purposes; it’s a given. Refreshingly, they’re in command of their own sexuality; they know their enormous power and they’re predators, not prey.
The main takeaway from this film is that female teenagers are terrifying, especially en masse, switching from giggly schoolgirls to coldly intimidating in the bat of a false eyelash. Writer/director Michael Caton-Jones adapted the story from award-winning novel The Sopranos by Alan Warner, and with naturalistic performances from the young leads, it feels authentic. There are moments where perhaps it teeters on the edge of mawkish. Yet Our Ladies is a powerful, vibrant snapshot of a moment in time; you get the feeling that the girls will be fondly reminiscing about this day for years to come.
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