Edinburgh Jamie Neish

Edinburgh 2019: Schemers review

★★★☆☆

Filmed in and around Scotland’s fourth largest city Dundee, Schemers – receiving its World Premiere at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival – makes up for in rough-and-ready charm what it lacks in technical finesse.

It’s a film backed by community spirit; Dundee-born David McLean acts as writer, producer and director, while the cast is predominantly made up of newcomers found through auditions in and around the city. It centres around Davie (Conor Berry), a plucky lad who’s desperate to escape the mundane 9-5 working life.

With the help of friends Scot (Sean Connor) and John (Grant Robert Keenan), and his heart set on winning over trainee nurse Shona (Tara Lee), Davie organises a last-minute disco to impress. It turns out to be a roaring success and, keen to keep the ball rolling to make themselves a tidy profit, the trio set up a music promotion business with their eyes on bands luring bands such as The Associates and Iron Maiden to the city of discovery.

It’s not all plain sailing, however, as they soon butt heads with local mobster Freddie, who has ideas of his own. Inspired by McLean’s real-life experiences as a youth in Dundee’s outlying schemes, Schemers is a homage to the city first and foremost, shot in such a way to capture the late seventies vibe. At a time when Dundee is taking on a new life following years of investment and building works, the film offers a shot of nostalgia to the days of past.

Encapsulating the feeling of wanting more from life and rising above the limitations put in place by society, Davie’s advancement is relatable, not only to the people of Dundee but to people from all over the world. The root of the film is resourcefulness to make better of oneself, awarded a comical edge by the real-life situations the trio finds themselves in like, for example, John breaking into his holiday savings when there’s nowhere else to turn, despite the fierce warnings from his wife to avoid such a thing.

The cast adapts themselves well, though its lead Berry in particular who takes the opportunity and runs with it. His performance is terrific, making him one to watch. In a technical sense, the film is scrappy, matching the film’s tone. But there’s an underlying wish that a little more attention had been paid to the fine-tuning. Perhaps a few tweaks in the editing room would sharpen this up nicely. As it is, however, Schemers is a charming low-budget slice of life that does what it set out to do – and with an abundance of charm at that. As a music manager barks at his assistant while on the phone to Davie, “Where’s Dundee?” Well, after this, nobody should need to have to ask that question again.

The full EIFF programme can be viewed at edfilmfest.org.uk.

Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish