In the spotlight

Director explores dissonance between singer and song.


written and directed by Peter Capaldi

with Ian Hart and Kelly Macdonald

opens June 22 at Uptown and Varsity

WHILE TREADING close to the line of being too maudlin, familiar, and predictable, Strictly Sinatra just tips the other way, instead becoming one of those endearing little Scottish movies that wins you over with its brogues and fine character acting. Backbeat‘s Ian Hart is a no-talent Sinatra wanna-be lounge singer befriended by local mobsters. Enthralled by a hood who actually met Sinatra in Vegas, heedless of the warnings of his sage pianist (good angelbad angel, get it?), he inevitably faces Moral Conflict in a low-rent Glaswegian underworld. Naturally, there’s a woman who offers the redemptive promise of love; thankfully, she’s played by the absolutely sparkling Kelly MacDonald of Trainspotting (the schoolgirl who beds Ewan McGregor), who alone is worth the price of admission. Our hero’s Rat Pack pretensions and terrible perm make for enjoyable low-key comedy, while the criminal squalor recalls the last-gasp gangsters of Donnie Brasco. And you can bet that numerous Sinatra standards salt the story—with Hart doing his own singing.

Visiting Seattle, where Sinatra had its world premiere at the just concluded SIFF, director Peter Capaldi sat down to view his film surrounded by a live audience for the first time. “It’s a nerve-wracking experience,” he admits, “because it’s not like the theater where you can go back and change it.” A film and theater actor with two decades’ experience, he flew here for a few quick days during the midst of a London stage show—leaving his understudy to perform his role.

Predictably, Capaldi has nothing but praise for SIFFgoers. “They were lovely and they were intelligent,” he says of the participants at the post-screening Q&A session. Noting that SIFF is a popular festival, “not a market,” he adds, “The people who are here are here because they’re interested in films from the perspective of what the films are like—not whether they can buy them or sell them. It’s really very refreshing. It’s also quite humbling as well, ’cause it’s just a movie: It’s not life and death! Careers aren’t on the line.”

Of the contrast between his protagonist Toni’s glamorous ballads and his seedy milieu, Capaldi notes, “I find that moving, but quite funny as well. I’d always been interested in club performers [and] this whole mythology of the lounge singer. I’ve always found that quite attractive about performers because they’ll do the most terrible, terrible things just to remain in the business. And, again, I find that quite moving.”

What of Tony’s big-time ambitions? “It’s naive. He’s too young to be living in that world and be doing that stuff. He’s locked in this world that’s slightly too old for him.”

In other words, the Scottish wanna-be gangsters are as anachronistic as Toni’s Vegas fantasies (and choice of sheet music). Yet that doesn’t prevent him—or us—from enjoying the escapism of what Capaldi calls “these romantic American songs.”