My Old School (2021)

August 15th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Jono McLeod; Cast: Alan Cumming, Clare Grogan, Lulu; UK 2022, 104 min.

Alan Cumming stars in this unconventional documentary about identity and belonging and a man who pretended to be someone else, named the martial arts legend Brandon Lee. Structured in to phases by first time Scottish filmmaker Jono McLeod who revisits his schooldays in an interview with his former classmates and teachers from Bearsden Academy in Glasgow, the 5Cof 1993. The centre of attention is a certain student: Brandon Lee, whose celebrity namesake met his death on set in Hollywood.

This Brandon joined the class late: his mother, an opera singer, had just been killed in Canada in a car accident and Brandon was under the care of his grandmother in Glasgow. Bearsden Academy was as close to a fee paying school as you can get. Little proof of Brandon’s identity was asked required to join the school: just the testaments of private Canadian tutors. But a birth certificate was missing. Headmaster Norman McCloud and his deputy Mrs. Holmes were obviously satisfied. And Brandon’s academic progress gave everyone reason to be happy. He would end up with five straight As, his knowledge of anatomy was so astonishing his biology teacher exclaimed “Brandon teaches me”. Brandon also helped to integrate other students and kept bullies at bay. Even more sensational was his acting, singing – and yes kissing – in the school’s production of “South Pacific”. He was admitted to read Medicine at Dundee University. A fight on a holiday trip with his fellow undergraduated brought the charade to an end: the police found an additional passport on Brandon Lee in the name of Brian MacKinnan. The latter had left Bearsden Academy for Glasgow University to study medicine in 1975.

It turned out Brian, to give him his proper name, had never been to Canada. His mother, posing as his grandmother, had been the motivation for his quest to become a doctor at all costs. After the death of his father – Brian used the family bereavement to skip a tricky physics test – Brian and his mother had plotted even harder to make his second chance a success: In Glasgow, he had been released for lack of progress in his first year.

After all this came to light Dundee expelled him, and he knew no university would take him on as by now he was over thirty, the cut off point for medical students in the UK. Now 58, Brian is not so keen on publicity; he requested that the actor Alan Cumming should lip read his answers to McLeod’s questions.

The most interesting aspect of MyOld School are the interviews with the anti-hero’s former class mates, the range of opinions differing very strongly. His co-lead in “South Pacific” finds it rather “icky” to learn that as a sixteen-year old she had been kissed by a man of thirty-two in public.

DoP George Geddes combines interviews, TV archive material and animation (Rory Lowe, Scott Morris) into a very lively watch. McLeod has skilfully assembled a study about time, memory and the way we are all unreliable narrators when our past is concerned. AS


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