“It’s not often you get what you pray for, is it?” smirks Orla (Tallulah Greive) towards the end of the film. In a small way, Our Ladies is about prayers answered and prayers ignored, even if the main characters don’t believe in God anymore like they did when they were children. Director Michael Caton-Jones must have felt a similar way to our Orla when this film finally came to fruition. ‘Labour of love’ seems like a cliche but this film has been a long time coming to say the least; Caton-Jones bought the rights to adapt Alan Warner’s book twenty years ago and had struggled for those two decades to find a suitable script and to get funding (as he explains, in the 1990s no one wanted to make a film about a group of young women).
The film follows six Catholic school girls from the Scottish highland town of Fort William as they embark on a trip to Edinburgh to compete in a choir competition. However, they care more about getting drunk and meeting boys; which they do to varying degrees of success and hilarity as, eventually, cracks in their friendships begin to show and their class, sexuality and individual futures begin to weigh heavy on their minds.
Set during the 1990s, Our Ladies wasn’t a period piece when the rights were first bought and work began on it two decades ago, therefore it’s time setting isn’t a focal point and isn’t used for nostalgia. Although the time setting is inferable by details like the girls’ club-wear costumes and the music they sing (and a passing reference to Princess Diana), there is no tedious news-clips-playing-in-the-background trope or ‘I got the new Spice Girls CD!’ signalling that is all too common in period coming-of-age tales, especially those from the late 20th century. The film isn’t tinted with a rose-coloured nostalgia that detracts from a story of female friends navigating their desire for (sexual, religious and physical) freedom.
This long gestation period and passion for the story is clear from the second the film starts, Caton-Jones clearly knows these characters like the back of his hand. Therefore, the girls’ distinctive (but not lazily stereotyped) personalities feel instantly alive and at home on the screen; the small mannerisms, costume details and perfect dialogue explains to us exactly who they are without any unnecessary character building or exposition. Although some explanation of character backgrounds comes later on in the film, it isn’t forced or over-egged.
The narrative is similar to the characters in many ways. It can at times seem to be unfocused with no specific motivation or driving force. But it would be unfair to call it aimless. The characters are fully fleshed out with strong desires, struggles and colourful pasts and the film clearly wants to focus on the girls’ friendship and what challenges and, ultimately, strengthens it. However, it definitely helps that the six lead actresses give warm and affecting performances that make you believe in these complex girls, with complex histories and futures, that you desperately want the best for. While also managing perfect delivery of the film’s one liners and physical comedy.
Our Ladies is a film about sexually frustrated and bored Catholic school girls trying to get drunk and laid. But it has a beating heart at its core that gets louder and louder as the film progresses, this cardiac rhythm eventually crescendos in a moving, charming and bittersweet ending that left my chin wobbling. And all concurrent with a wink, a nod and a cameo from David Hasselhoff.
by Madeleine Sinclair
Madeleine Sinclair is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth, The Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.