My Life So Far

USA/UK 1998

Reviewed by Edward Lawrenson


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Argyll, Scotland, 1920. Twelve-year-old Fraser Pettigrew lives with his parents (Moira and Edward) and two siblings on Kiloran estate, owned by Moira's mother Gamma Macintosh. Moira's brother Morris - who disapproves of Edward - introduces the family to his 24-year-old French bride Heloise. Edward is attracted to Heloise and forces himself on her in one of the estate's outhouses.

Fraser devours Gamma's dead husband's library of sexually explicit literature, stored in the attic. Morris and Heloise return from their travels. At a curling contest on a frozen lake, the ice under Gamma's feet gives way; she dies from pneumonia weeks later. Edward inherits the estate and boasts to Morris that he slept with Heloise. They fight, confirming Moira's suspicion that Edward has been unfaithful. Morris and Heloise leave. Moira reluctantly forgives Edward. With the family reconciled, Fraser is sent away to boarding school.


It's not long into My Life So Far that alarm bells will start sounding for anyone even vaguely familiar with the sad old bag of clichés film-makers have tended to delve into when making movies about Scotland. The moment comes when dashing French pilot Gabriel lands his aeroplane in the grounds of Kiloran estate, takes in the gorgeous Argyll landscape and comments, "I seem to have landed in Shangri La." Portraying Kiloran very much as a timeless idyll, My Life So Far proves the ghost of Brigadoon just won't go to rest, no matter how hard cultural theorists might try to exorcise it.

Apart from airing a pretty dusty line in comedy Scots (the drunken minister; the abstemious housekeeper who keeps the cooking sherry under lock and key), director Hugh Hudson ends up with a film embarrassingly patrician in outlook by falling back on this cheerily bucolic vision of Scotland. The servants (played by such fine Scots actors as Jimmy Logan) are gossipy, good-hearted folk, earthy types (Andrew knows a lot about geology) if not vaguely pantheistic (the old servant Tom namechecks Greek mythology in a pep talk with Fraser). It's clear the Macintosh family have the best interests of these people at heart: raising money for unemployed miners, treating the downstairs staff with friendly respect, setting great store in their stewardship of the land, Gamma the Macintosh matriarch and her extended family exude benevolent authority and kindly concern. Like BBC1's unspeakably naff series The Monarch of the Glen, My Life So Far plays like a subtle endorsement of the (largely inept) private ownership of vast tracts of rural land in Scotland. When Gamma orders Edward to stop using explosives for one of his harebrained land-development schemes, she explains that the noise bothers the sheep. This might cause a rather wry reflection on the role her ancestors had in the Highland clearances (where tenant farmers were turfed off their land to make way for woolly livestock), but any irony here is surely unintended.

Not that My Life So Far is visually unimpressive (French cinematographer Bernard Lutic's camerawork is outstanding), but the picture-postcard aesthetics gloss over a darker, more interesting film. Fraser's father Edward - childish, jealous, dogmatic - is clearly a flawed, if not unsuitable parent. But as portrayed by Colin Firth, he's no more than a loveable eccentric, the kind of playful patriarch who used to turn up in those cute and cloying movies produced by the Children's Film Foundation. In a film devoid of dramatic incident, his unwelcome advances towards his sister-in-law Heloise spark off a major crisis, but the question of whether he raped or not is skirted over, cited obliquely in terms of a family disgrace, much as it would be in a Victorian family melodrama. There are some delicate and lively touches - Fraser's unknowingly crude language during the hushed civility of a dinner party; Malcolm McDowell's caddish portrayal of Morris - but for the most part My Life So Far is a hard slog, like trudging shin-deep through heather on a pointless albeit very pretty Highland excursion.


Hugh Hudson
David Puttnam
Steve Norris
Simon Donald
Based on the book Son of Adam by
Sir Denis Forman
Director of Photography
Bernard Lutic
Scott Thomas
Production Designer
Andy Harris
Howard Blake
©Miramax Film Corp.
Production Companies
Miramax International presents in association with The Scottish Arts Council Lottery Fund an Enigma production in association with Hudson Film
Filmed by Enigma (Moss) Ltd with the participation of Scottish Screen
Executive Producers
Harvey Weinstein
Bob Weinstein
Paul Webster
Nigel Goldsack
Production Executive
Iain York
Production Co-ordinator
Rachel Kinnock
Production Manager
Andrew Barratt
Unit Manager
Janet Riddoch
Location Manager
Graeme Gordon
Post-production Supervisor
Stephen Barker
Assistant Directors
Bill Westley
Mark Layton
Toby Hosking
Script Supervisor
Libbie Barr
Casting Director
Patsy Pollock
Script Editor
Jane Wittekind
Script Consultant
Colin Vaines
Aerial Cameraman
Adam Dale
Camera Operator
David Worley
Camera/Steadicam Operator
Alastair Rae
Special Visual Effects
Mill Film Ltd (London)
Special Effects
Effects Associates
Assembly Editor
Christopher Lloyd
Art Directors
John Frankish
Extra Shooting:
John Bunker
Alain Chennaux
Set Decorators
Gillie Delap
Ann Mollo
Storyboard Artist
Billy O'Brian
Costume Designer
Emma Porteous
Wardrobe Supervisor
Cynthea Dowling
Hair/Make-up Supervisor
Caroline Noble
Title Design
Richard Morrison
Optical Effects
Peter Govey Opticals
Translite Photography
Stilled Movie
Alan White
Cellist Recording
Wendy Wetherby
Concertina Player
Simon Thoumire
David Harrod
Solo Violin
Andrew Haveron
Musical Director
Harry Rabinowitz
Music Supervisor
Bob Last
Musical Associate
John Wilson
Recording Engineer
Mike Ross
Music Consultant
Nicholas Kraemer
Camille Saint-Saëns' "Le Cygne"; "The Sunny Side of the Street" by Louis Armstrong; Beethoven's "Für Elise" from 5th Symphony Op. 67, Piano Sonata "Appassionata" by Howard Blake; "Doin' the New Lowdown"; "My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose"; "Edward Sits Alone"
Sound Supervisor
Ian Fuller
Production Sound Mixers
Ken Weston
Rudi Buckle
Re-recording Mixers
Ray Merrin
Graham Daniel
Dialogue Editors
Brian Blamey
Gillian Dodders
Sound Effects Editors
Colin Chapman
Derek Lomas
Nigel Mills
ADR Editors
Alan Paley
Grahame Peters
Aerial Co-ordinator
Marc Wolff
Stunt Co-ordinators
Paul Weston
Pat Bailey
Del Baker
John McQuillian
Stunt Dogs
Animal Co-ordinator
Gilly Raddings
Filming Helicopter Pilot
Marc Wolff
Colin Firth
Edward Pettigrew
Rosemary Harris
Gamma Macintosh
Irène Jacob
Tchéky Karyo
Gabriel Chenoux
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Moira Pettigrew
Malcolm McDowell
Uncle Morris Macintosh
Kelly MacDonald
Elspeth Pettigrew
Robert Norman
Fraser Pettigrew
John Bett
Uncle Crawford
Freddie Jones
Reverend Finlayson
Brendan Gleeson
Jim Menzies
Sean Scanlan
Andrew Burns
Moray Hunter
Jim Skelly
Anne Lacey
Aunt Eunice
Jimmy Logan
Tom Skelly
Eileen McCallum
Mrs Henderson
Clive Russell
the tramp
Roddy McDonald
Daniel Baird
Jennifer Fergie
Kirsten Smith
Olivia Preston
Debs Haig
Sarah Turner
Ruth Haig
Carmen Pieraccini
Elaine Ellis
Julie Wilson Nimmo
Elspeth McNaughton
Stewart Forrest
Donald Burns
Caroline Spencer
Cassie Burns
Ralph Riach
Sir David Drummond
Andrea Hart
Terry Neason
Jenni Keenan-Green
Jenny Foulds
Paul Young
Doctor Gebbie
Pamela Kelly
Euphemia Gebbie
Eric Barlow
Gordon McCorkell
young miner
Neil McMenemy
miner's son
Lorenzo Boni
baby Fraser
Robyn Cochrane
baby Brenda
Ross Anderson
young Rollo
Joanne Turner
young Debs Haig
Nicole O'Neill
young Elspeth
Victoria Campbell
young Meg
George Knight
old gardener
Buena Vista International (UK)
8,860 feet
98 minutes 27 seconds
Dolby Digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011