A Scottish film with an opening scene featuring our hero (a working class lad called Davie) running down the street, hotly pursued by an irate adversary, might put you in mind of Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Irving Welsh’s Trainspotting.
The first person voiceover narrative (present through much of Schemers) only adds to the sense of indebtedness, though the lighter tone and the romance (almost) at the centre of the plot, whispers Gregory’s Girl. Bill Forsyth’s 1981 charmer – with violence and strong language added to the mix – is clearly another influence on Dave McLean’s film. Indeed, Conor Berry in the central role, shows more than a hint of the young John Gordon Sinclair.
Set in Dundee between 1979 and 1980, Schemers is based on the real life story of a young chancer.
When Davie ends up in hospital with a broken leg (following an entanglement with a young lady, whose boyfriend turns out NOT to be in prison, after all), he falls for blonde student nurse, Shona (Tara Lee). Desperate to impress her, he tells her he’s a disco promoter, and then has to pressgang two friends – low-level drug pusher, Scot (Sean Connor) and football coach, John (Grant Robert Keelan) – into helping him out.
First stop, a kindly priest who owes John payment for a job. The priest tries to fob the boys off with a painting, of all things. The artist is talented, but unknown.
“It’s by my nephew, Jack,” Father Vettriano tells them. Naturally, but politely, they insist upon having the cash.
Only mildly impressed by the success of the disco, Shona suggests Davie might try putting on some local bands, such as her current favourite up-and-comers, a band called Simple Minds (yep, lots of names get dropped along the way).
Before long, Davie and his mates are booking rising stars from across the nation (Madness, Skids, the Rezillos, and more).
Davie soon makes enough money to take Shona to a posh restaurant (where she has to tell him not to pronounce the ’s’ in ‘Chablis’). Romance might be blossoming… or maybe not. Trouble is, Davie and his mates have attracted the attention of the local gangster, Fergie (Alistair Thomson Mills) and his nephew, Pike (Blair Robertson).
Before long, Davie and his friends are so far in hock to Fergie that booking an audaciously big headline act is their only hope to avoid serious pain. Having insulted and fallen out with Shona, a desperate Davie calls a London agency to try to blag his way to booking Pink Floyd. No go – the Floyd are far too pricey. How about a little known Dublin band – the agent says they’ll be massive. U2? Never heard of them.
They settle on Iron Maiden. Big name. Huge venue. Massive opportunity. But can the boys handle it?
When the pantechnicon arrives with Iron Maiden’s gear, Davie fears he has bitten off more than he can chew. And why didn’t he read the small print in the contract..?
Schemers often feels like being stuck on a Dundee to London train with a guy who’s determined to tell you his life story, while knocking back a six-pack of Tennents Super. It’s a good story, with plenty of fun anecdotes planted along the route, but there are times when you wish he’d just get to the end of it.
Sean Connor shows much promise as the twinkling-eyed ne’er-do-well Scot, and Tara Lee’s Shona constantly gives the sense of having an impressive personality up her sleeve. The highly capable Paula Masterson, as John’s dominant but alluring wife, Anne, could have handled more lines.
Schemers may not quite be ‘Trainspotting meets Gregory’s Girl,’ but it has enough going for it (just about) to keep you in your seat till the end of the line.★ ★ ★
Schemers is in UK Cinemas from 25 September 2020