The cream of Scottish acting talent

January 16, 2005 | Misc/General Career News

The nominations for the Bowmore Scottish Screen Awards exclusively offer readers of The Sunday Times the chance to vote in Scotland’s democratic version of the Oscars. Be sure to cast your vote – and win the opportunity to attend this year’s glittering award ceremony
What could the woman who runs the sweetie shop in Balamory have in common with a young Scot with Down’s syndrome? And what connects a dimwitted cockney police inspector with the ruler of ancient Greece? The answers lie in the Bowmore Scottish Screen Awards, the most important competition in the domestic film business, in which you, the readers of The Sunday Times, choose the winners.

In this second week of nominations for the awards, we concentrate on the contribution of actors and actresses, in a year of great achievement for their profession.

Ever since Danny Boyle’s 1996 movie, Trainspotting, established the reputations of Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and the rest of the cast, a string of Scottish actors have made their way into Hollywood productions and British films.

While the contribution of the men has been obvious, Scottish actresses have been less to the fore. Even in two notable recent Scottish films, principal female roles have gone to an Irish and an English woman, respectively Eva Birthistle in Ae Fond Kiss and Emily Mortimer in Dear Frankie.

And yet, paradoxically, the shortlist for best actress in this year’s Bowmore awards is probably the richest, most exciting and most diverse since the category was introduced four years ago.

Some of the more familiar faces, including the past winners Shirley Henderson and Laura Fraser, lost out this year to actresses who have been better known for their work in theatre or on television — if indeed they have been known at all. Think of Paula Sage in her first significant screen role, or the veteran soap actress Mary Riggans, who has been nominated at last for her work on a bigger screen.

And in an age, and a profession, that seems increasingly to celebrate youth for its own sake, it is heartening to see more mature actresses getting substantial roles in several films, though that is thanks largely to the contribution of just one scriptwriter — Andrea Gibb. Gibb wrote the screenplays for AfterLife and Dear Frankie, and created the characters played by four of the five best actress nominees.

If in some earlier years, the contribution of Scottish actresses to world cinema has been relatively limited, compiling a list of potential nominees in the Bowmore’s best actor category has never been a problem, at least in terms of sheer numbers. This year the committee entrusted with producing the nominations again were faced with the problem of who to leave out.

This year’s selection finds no room for such big talents as Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Van Helsing) and Billy Connolly (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events).

Indeed, such was the quality of the field that the nominations committee even had to omit James McAvoy, despite two excellent and very different performances in Wimbledon and Inside I’m Dancing.

The final shortlist recognises one newcomer, who had stardom thrust upon him; one late starter, who gave up law to pursue acting; two veterans of Trainspotting who have perhaps been a little overshadowed by McGregor and Carlyle in the past, but who have worked almost non-stop since that breakthrough movie; and at the other end of the spectrum of experience, the veteran actor and national treasure that is Brian Cox.

See the newspaper for the coupon to cast your vote postally this week, or vote online next week at


Ewen Bremner

Fondly remembered as the hapless Spud in Trainspotting, Bremner never seems to stop working. He was The Rock’s sidekick in Welcome to the Jungle, the dimwitted Inspector Fix handcuffed to martial arts legend Jackie Chan, in Around the World in 80 Days, and the envy of fanboys as a geeky scientist in Alien vs Predator. There was even time for a quick cameo nearer home in 16 Years of Alcohol.

[b Gerard Butler

A former lawyer, Butler was in his late twenties when he made his film debut as Billy Connolly’s brother in Mrs Brown. His brooding, good looks brought other film roles, though he was a surprise choice as the tragic, disfigured anti-hero in the film of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical The Phantom of the Opera. He was a similarly mysterious, if more benevolent, figure in Dear Frankie.[/b

Brian Cox

Described in his early days as “Scotland’s answer to Marlon Brando” Cox is one of cinema’s most sought-after and busiest character actors. Hollywood producers love him because he gives characters an instant authority. The veteran actor reprised his role of spymaster in the second Jason Bourne film The Bourne Supremacy and delivered a majestic performance as the Greek king Agamemnon in the epic Troy.

Kevin McKidd

Another of the Trainspotting cast, McKidd was missing from one of the most iconic posters of the age because he was on holiday. But he has established himself among Scotland’s top actors and can play hard man, big softie and everything in between, bringing sensitivity to each role. He was torn between his gang and his arty girlfriends in 16 Years of Alcohol, and between career and family in AfterLife. He also turned up in De-Lovely and was Bothwell in Gunpowder, Treason and Plot on television.

Atta Yaqub

Yaqub is the novice of the bunch. Before starring in Ae Fond Kiss, he had only acted once, playing the lion in a school production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But the director Ken Loach has a track record in eliciting great performances from unknowns. Yaqub was part of the Glasgow Asian community in which the film was set, and it helped that he possessed the good looks of a new Omar Sharif.

Best actress
Shamshad Akhtar

Akhtar was forced into an unhappy and abusive marriage at 14 and could not speak English when she arrived in Glasgow. She taught herself the language from the television, and went on to pursue a career in acting. Akhtar established herself with the role of Meena in the popular BBC sitcom Still Game, forever sniping at her shopkeeper husband in their native tongue and graduated to the big screen as the traditionalist Asian mother in Ae Fond Kiss, a role she understood only too well.

Lindsay Duncan

One of Britain’s foremost theatre actresses, Duncan has won a fistful of awards in the West End and on Broadway. Screen appearances have been fewer, though a diverse resumé includes Up Pompeii and Star Wars (as the voice of a robot), alongside A Year in Provence and Mansfield Park. She brought great poignancy, without undue sentiment, to her role in AfterLife, as a mother who is incurably ill and desperately worried about who will care for her Down’s syndrome daughter when she is gone.

Mary Riggans

A regular on Scottish stage, radio and television for decades, Riggans appeared in Dr Finlay’s Casebook in the 1960s. More recently she was Effie in High Road and Suzie Sweet, who runs the sweet shop in Balamory, the BBC children’s programme. In Dear Frankie she plays Emily Mortimer’s chain-smoking, down-to-earth and grumpy mum.

Paula Sage

It took an extensive series of meetings and auditions before Sage was cast as Roberta, the little girl with Down’s syndrome in AfterLife. If it was a role that seemed to mirror Sage’s own condition, it also helped to reveal an astonishing acting talent. “She’s a complete natural,” said the director Alison Peebles, “so bright and quick, and very different from the character she portrays.” She charmed hardened critics with her performance and effervescent personality and has already won a Bafta Scotland award.

Sharon Small

Better known for her television work, Dear Frankie was only Small’s second feature film. But the 37-year-old delivered a memorable performance as Marie, the extrovert chip-shop owner, with an accent as broad as her grin. She takes it upon herself to sort out the problems of single mum Emily Mortimer and her deaf son Frankie.
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Publication: The Sunday Times (Scotland)
Author: Brian Pendreigh

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