Ahead of the BAFTA Scotland awards in Glasgow this weekend, where its lead actor Conor McCarron is very deservedly up for an acting award, writer-director James Price’s breakout, Dundee-set film Dog Days made its full television premiere this week.
The film is set against a grey-skied Dundonian backdrop which is at once beautiful – glimpses of the Law and the Tay appear in the background of grand old city centre streets – and gritty.
McCarron is Zoso (Joseph, on the rare occasions he has to be formal), a Glaswegian man who’s homeless in Dundee, having moved up to be closer to his infant daughter and her mother, who he’s no longer with.
His life is chaotic. He begs on the street, mugs a busker for his guitar and hangs around an underpass and murky closes with his friends Laura (Shannon Allan) and Billy (Billy Howe).
While the ‘prostitute with a heart of gold’ trope is old-fashioned and done nearly to death, Allan brings it new life in the role of Laura, her performance almost as exciting as McCarron’s.
She’s naive in some ways and streetwise in others, caring but with some savagely Dundonian put-downs. Her loyalty, drug addiction and relationship with menacing pimp Terry (Brian McCardie) are all portrayed with honesty and acting class.
‘Confident and compelling film’
Also memorable is Lois Chimimba’s Grace, a music tutor who falls for Zoso when she hears him busking Frankie Miller’s version of Darlin’ extraordinarily well, offering him an unsteady path to contentment and emotional safety. Her performance is warm and natural, balancing the darkness everywhere else in the film.
There are moments where Dog Days doesn’t avoid cheesiness, namely where Zoso gets a dream gig opening for Chvrches. Yet mostly, it’s a confident and compelling film with a real authentic voice, and an understanding of how people talk and act on the street.
Cleverly, Price’s smart double ending allows it to conclude as a gangland bloodbath and a tender, emotional drama at the same time.
While the director is a talent to watch, though, McCarron’s is the real breakout performance here. As a cheeky, witty leading man, a vulnerable and enraged antihero, and a damn good singer besides, he has it all.
Dog Days is available to view again on BBC iPlayer.