The Lives of the Saints

  • 3 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

Glaswegian photographer - and now filmmaker - Rankin gets medieval on Phil Hoad’s ass.

Even for someone as associated with alternative culture as the photographer Rankin, his feature film debut, The Lives Of The Saints, makes distinctly unexpected moves from the off. Set at first glance in grimy naturalistic sprawl - the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities scattered along Green Lanes, northeast London - things take a turn for the supernatural when local errand boy Roadrunner (Daon Broni) stumbles across a moon-eyed young boy (Sam McClintock) in the park, whose clairvoyant abilities begin to signal the end of a dynasty in the area.

‘The film is suggesting that London is a magical place,’ confirms Rankin, ‘cos I think London is a magical place and I think you can dip in and out of communities in London. There are so many churches. I always think of London as quite a spiritual place. I decided to live here for more reasons than just work.’

But the real reason for the film’s otherworldly power is its amazing language, as penned by writer (and frequent Terry Gilliam collaborator) Tony Grisoni. Far from everyday diction or even laboured Guy Ritchie ‘gangstois’, all the characters speak a beautiful poetic dialect, stanzas of heightened rhetoric that hark back to the medieval aura evoked in the title and hint at the capital as a source of fathomless mystery.

Even the director was antsy about the language to start with: ‘(But) the fact that we were familiar with the setting made us less nervous about the script, which really was even more complicated (originally) than it appears in the film. It’s like when you watch Shakespeare, you understand it, ‘cos the actors’ intonation and the way it’s performed allows you to understand it.’

Rankin - 40 this year and, having shot everyone from Kate Moss to the Queen, one of the country’s most famous and eclectic photographers - was originally born in Glasgow and first drawn into the London orbit aged 15, when his family moved to St Albans. Co-director Chris Cottam is from Newcastle. So, like most Londoners, they’re both arrivistes and the film is very much shot from the immigrants’ perspective. The fusion of real and surreal is inspirational; simply filmed and supplely expressive, The Lives Of The Saints is the most intriguing London film since Mike Leigh’s Naked.

Cineworld, 623 8030, 16 Aug, 7pm & 18 Aug, 5pm, £7.95 (£5.20).

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