After the recent publication of Alan Bissett’s Pack Men
(see Pack Men
), a novel which deals with, amongst other things, Scotland’s sectarianism and how it is linked to religion, football and masculinity, I thought it would be worth watching Peter McDougall’s controversial ‘Play for Today’ from 1975, Just Another Saturday
. McDougall was granted unprecedented access to film the largest Orange Walk of the year, and the results still astonish today.
The film is a social commentary that remains relevant and, when you look at some of the scenes portrayed, then it’s no surprise that no one has been allowed such access since. Those who permitted McDougall to film the walk must have been under the impression that he was going to show those who participate in a positive light, but, with the exception of one staged scene in Duncan Street, which is known to the band as ‘Fenian Alley’, McDougall simply points the camera and records what is around him.
It stars Jon Morrison as John, a young man who wakes up on the day of the walk full of excitement and expectation as he is going to be leading his band and swinging the mace. As his day progresses he starts to view things differently as communal celebration takes a darker turn. By the time he meets up with his mates in the evening, many of whom are Catholic, he is beginning to realise that such days can have life-long consequences and that what starts out as a day of excitement and colour can end in tragedy.
You may find it a stretch that someone could be so naive, but Morrison’s performance is good enough that his move from joy, through confusion to disgust is, just about, believable. The supporting cast are superb. Bill Henderson and Eileen MCallum as John’s Mum and Dad are torn between knowing of the dangers that lie ahead and pride that their son ‘believes’ in something. His Dad in particular is scathing about Scotland’s ‘divisions’, and he is one of the few voices of reason in the play. Ken Hutchison (who some may remember from Murphy’s Mob) is the band leader who is supposed to be the reliable man in charge, but whose hatred is never far from the surface, and there are cameos from Phil McCall, Jake Darcy, Terry Neason and James Walsh.
But it is the footage of the walk and those who are in and around it that stays with you, particularly in Kelvin Grove Park. Here’s a clip, although you can watch the whole thing on You Tube. This is after the march has ended and John is drinking with his pal Paddy, who just happens to be Billy Connolly:
At a time when the subject of sectarianism in Scottish society is under heavy scrutiny once more it is timely to remember Just Another Saturday. Glasgow in particular is a very different city these days, but here is something that endures and McDougall is canny enough not to simply dismiss and condemn, although he certainly condemns, but to look behind the scenes to try and understand the attraction of the Orange Walk to so many. The result is one of the most powerful, and controversial, dramas ever to come out of Scotland, one which is subtler than it first appears. This is not simply a one-sided argument, although no doubt some will see it that way. No matter your beliefs I would urge you to watch it, although there are times when you’ll want to look away, and when you do feel like that, remember that those drums are still being played.