“The action of this film takes place in a fictitious town called GLASGOW. Any resemblance to any real town called GLASGOW is purely coincidental.”
The Glasgow in which ‘That Sinking Feeling’ takes place is one of rain and mud, and of grey and brown. It is one of tragic Seventies hair and tragic Seventies flared trousers, sported by spotty, pale teenagers. But most importantly, like any real town that happens to be called Glasgow, the fictitious town is one with a marvellous self-deprecating sense of humour.
The debut film of writer/director Bill Forsyth, That Sinking Feeling follows the story of a disparate and desperate group of youths, without jobs or prospects, who connive to commit a robbery in order to get moderately well-off, quick. But rather than steal gold bullion from a bank, they set their sights on alternative loot.
Sinks. They decide to rob dozens of sinks from a warehouse. But this might not be as ridiculous as you first conceive. Each sink can retail for £60. And as one member realises, eyes lighting up at the prospect, “sixty times ninety … that’s more than a hundred quid!”
In the manner of the best Ealing comedies, Bill Forsyth’s great talent is to be able to bring light-hearted humour to often quite dark or melancholic subject matter: Local Hero (1983) has an American oil company profiteering at the expense of the Scottish environment; Gregory’s Girl (1981) is about the angst of unrequited teenage love.
And That Sinking Feeling manages it against the bleak setting of mass unemployment and social deprivation, and the correlated issues. A group of unemployed youths falling into a life of crime, as the only way to afford a coffee and a bacon bap. Humour comes from very dark moments. In one scene, somebody admits he tried to kill himself that morning by drowning himself in cornflakes and milk. Yet it seems like light comedy in the hands of Bill Forsyth.
It is impossible to discuss the film without mention of its budget. The film was made for even less than the total value of the sinks. At time of release, it was the cheapest film ever made, and it was only made as Forsyth could not afford to make Gregory’s Girl. The cast, who came free from a local youth theatre, are fantastic. Collectively the ensemble is great, but it is Robert Buchanan as the lead organiser, Ronnie, who shines.
But at the end of the day, the film works because it is exceptionally funny, and that is to Bill Forsyth’s credit. That Sinking Feeling has been seen as the film that launched his career in order that he could make Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero. But That Sinking Feeling can, and should, be seen as an equal to those films in its own right.