Schemers (2019)

Schemers is director David McLean’s appealing comedy-drama, a blend of Trainspotting and Gregory’s Girl with a touch of Good Vibrations, of how he became a teenage music promoter in Dundee.

McLean's Bluff

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

A cross between Trainspotting and Gregory’s Girl with a touch of Good Vibrations, Schemers is the first feature film to be made in Dundee. The city is beautifully shot, and the film has a great classic indie soundtrack from the ‘70s and ‘80s as the background to its music promotion story (including disco lights to Hawkwind, involuntary underwear to the Dead Kennedys, and The Proclaimers).

Davie (an impressive debut by Conor Berry) starts the film running, but his potential football career is cut short by a broken leg. He recoils at the thought of a future working in the jute factory (for which Dundee is famous) but he needs to find an alternative way of earning money.

To impress his beautiful nurse Shona (Tara Lee, with cheekbones like Debbie Harry) to go on a date with him, he invites her to a disco – which he says he will be running. Except he wasn’t, so now he has to. With the help of his friends (good support by Sean Connor (Scot) and Grant R Keenan (John)), he scrabbles an event together and to everyone’s surprise, it’s a success. And so their career as promoters starts.

Linked by chancer Davie’s wry voiceover that deadpans his unlikely, naive survival in the cut-throat music business, Schemers is an endearing, even if derivative, burst of energy, enthusiasm, bluff and sheer incompetence (in a promotion business run from a vintage push-button phone box) as Davie tries to negotiate with the violent gangster mafia who own all local venues that he wants to hire.

Schemers is based on the real-life story surrounding teenage chancer David McLean’s stream of unrealistically ambitious gigs in 1980s, which unbelievably really did include Simple Minds, XTC, Ultravox and The Skids. They culminate with his baptism of fire in the uncertainty of an unexpectedly huge Iron Maiden gig, with home-spun help from his mum and dad.

Schemers is also co-written and directed by the actual David McLean. Despite his inevitable self-interest and understandably rather underwritten supporting characters, it’s bursting with irrepressible life, very funny and surprisingly enjoyable to see the pals lurch from crisis to even bigger crisis as their fledgling business grows, though the film loses some of its momentum in the second half. For a namby-pamby southerner, the fast, heavily accented dialogue and Scots dialect words are sometimes hard to follow, so subtitles might be helpful in places. Stay for the end credits to find out what became of them all in later life.

The film won the Audience Award at Edinburgh Film Festival and Best Director and Best Actor at the New York Winter Film Awards.

Schemers screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and is released on 25 September 2020 in the UK.

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