Our Ladies (2020)
Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Screenwriter: Michael Caton-Jones
Starring: Abigail Lawrie, Tallulah Greive, Sally Messham, Rona Morrison, Marli Siu, Eve Austin, Kate Dickie
When it comes to high school movies about teenage girls, you might feel like you’ve seen it all before. Bickering between cliques, the race towards their first significant sexual experience, getting dolled up for a wild night of finding themselves – it’s all present and correct in Our Ladies, but this film delivers schoolgirl sins in such a gloriously funny, brash and unashamedly thirsty way that it succeeds in standing out from the crowd.
Based on Alan Warner’s novel “The Sopranos”, which was developed into a play before being adapted for the screen, Our Ladies is set in 1996. The titular gang of girls are five best friends attending a super strict Catholic school in small town Scotland, and each brings a certain charm to the ensemble.
Finnoula (Abigail Lawrie) is the clever one, desperate for more than the mundane domestic life that awaits her upon leaving school; Manda (Sally Messham) is the funny one, her straight-talking wit contrasting with her curly mop of blond hair; Kylah (Marli Siu) is the musical protégé, with the voice of an angel but the attitude of a punk rocker; Chell (Rona Morison) is popular with the boys, somewhat of a wild child struggling with the loss of her father; and then, there’s Orla (Tallulah Grieve) – who is probably the protagonist if you had to pick just one – who’s in in recovery from leukaemia. A quiet, quirky soul, her illness has made her all the more determined to pop that cherry and live life to the full.
Under the watchful eye of highly strung nun ‘Sister Condom’ (played with scene-stealing excellence by Kate Dickie), the girls and their classmates are heading to Edinburgh for the day to compete in a choral singing competition – and they can’t wait to raise hell in the big city.
Comparisons to Lisa McGee’s ‘Derry Girls’ are inevitable, and justified – the era, the small town setting, the strong Celtic accents and the group of brilliantly drawn female characters are just some of the standout elements the two works have in common. But Warner’s novel came first, and there’s a raucous energy and seemingly specifically Scottish nostalgia evident in Our Ladies that really set it apart.
The jokes are non-stop; no cruel, crude or sexually deviant stone is left unturned, with an upside-down penis and orgasmic rosary beads just some of the hilarious highlights. It may sound a little gauche or inappropriate for a film about high schoolers, but there’s a certain kind of satisfaction that comes from seeing a group of horny girls given permission to express their desires with complete freedom, and without judgment.
Joyful as they are, there’s much more to Our Ladies than the laughs and lustful encounters. The girls’ rebellion ultimately stems from a fear, or sometimes a resignation, towards what lies ahead for them. They see a heavily pregnant friend before they leave for Edinburgh, and it’s like a glimpse into their future, trapped in a relentless generational cycle of women ending up as young mothers. The savage Scottish humour throughout is a gloss over the top of the intense issues that lie underneath – class division, abortion, coming to terms with their sexuality. Some of the best drama comes from comedy, and here the two work together beautifully.
Our Ladies is a wildly entertaining riot of a movie. It’s one of those films you wish you’d had back when you were a teenager with a whole lot of feelings and no idea what to do with them. It’s one of those films where you feel the end approaching, but wish it would wait. You wish you could pull an all-nighter with these characters, just like they do, if only to stay in their company a little longer.