Schemers review: a British movie worth seeking out on the big screen

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British movie Schemers is now playing in cinemas in the UK – and it’s a film that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve.

Once you’ve watched Schemers, you’ll instantly buy into the story behind the making of David McLean’s semi-autobiographical movie, which spins its colourful yarn around his youthful antics promoting gigs in early-80s Dundee.

In hopping the traditional hurdle of writing a memoir and having that adapted into a film, the music industry veteran instead decided to head straight to the big screen himself. This leap entailed co-penning the Schemers screenplay, and taking on directing and production duties as his debut credits in the movie world. McLean, as the film ably illustrates, has never been lacking in chutzpah.

The central narrative of the movie tells of young ‘Davie’ and his partners’ wheeling-and-dealing in order to put on shows involving some of the biggest New Wave and Metal groups of the time. Flushed with limited success and a gambler’s instinct to keep upping the ante at every turn, Davie’s sheer charisma and uneven influence within the trio of lads culminates in a ludicrously ambitious plan to put on then rising stars Iron Maiden.

However, the risks that he and his friends take to realise their plans bring with them not only interpersonal and relationship pressures, but puts them into the orbit of Dundee’s ‘McMafia’. That comes in the form of Alastair Thomson Mills’ gangster, Fergie – to whom they end up owing a not inconsiderable sum.

It’s a not unfamiliar tale, told from the point of view of a protagonist we can easily parse as the charming wide-boy we would see in – say – a Guy Ritchie movie or Trainspotting. You may sigh as I make that comparison when talking about a unashamedly Scottish move, but there’s much in Schemers that is influenced by that film, not least its opening few minutes, and in the general raucous air of youthful hedonism and self-destructive behaviour. It’s a good fit too – Davie’s intermittent voiceover interjections are well used to keep things moving, and the black comedy sits well with the movie’s more tense moments.

It’s also hard not to look at Conor Berry, and some of the more parochial scenes of Dundee – and its football pitches – and not see the mop-haired, pencil-thin John Gordon Sinclair in Gregory’s Girl as very much the basis of the film’s visual cues for the time period. Conor Berry, however, uses his whip-thin physique to portray an altogether more self-assured character, a perfect post-punk poseur stuck in a distinctly Old Wave town. That he manages to make Davie charming enough to think about forgiving him for the risk his actions expose his friends to is testament to Schemers’ charm, and the evergreen allure of the bad boy on screen.

A movie of swagger and confidence unbefitting a debut for both actor and director, but one that you suspect completely fits the latter’s modus operandi and life experience.


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