Dir: Morag McKinnon
Morag McKinnon is a diverse and versatile director. Donkeys would have broken most directors after all the problems that arose during filming but McKinnon carried on and then made the astonishing I Am Breathing just a couple of years later. Donkeys was originally meant to be part two of a trilogy (known as The Advance Party Trilogy), following Andrea Arnold's brilliant 2006 film Red Road. Sigma Films and Lar von Trier's Zentropa Films had intended the three films to have the same characters and to adhere to similar rules that the DOGME 95 movement group developed. From fairly early on McKinnon thought the project was somewhat flawed and that Donkeys would work better as a standalone film. She fought her case and won, hiring her preferred writing partner and changing some of the cast. Andrew Armour was meant to reprise his character from Red Road and was to be the film's main character but McKinnon cast James Cosmo instead. Armour was hurt, stating that his contract had been broken and he was broken. He died of cancer a few months later. McKinnon was understandably devastated by this news but I believe she made all the right decisions. I like DOGME 95 very much and Red Road is a brilliant film but the overall idea of a trilogy seemed unnecessarily gimmicky. Mass illness, terrible weather and difficult shoots made the filming tough but McKinnon's perseverance more than paid off. Quite unfairly (and rather irritatingly) Donkeys was written off before anyone had seen a frame but McKinnon and co had the last laugh, deservedly so. Advertised as a dark comedy, Donkeys is about as dark a comedy can get. 'Dark comedy' is somewhat of an understatement. It's also rather brilliant. James Cosmo is brilliant as a dying man, desperately seeking redemption before his death. Kate Dickie and Martin Compston reprise their characters from Red Road, although their histories are changed. It's probably best to consider them different people or this story taking part in a totally different dimension. Both are on top form. However, for me, Brian Pettifer steals the show on more than one occasion during the film. The conclusion is both beautiful and disturbing, a very difficult balance to achieve but one McKinnon and co succeed at with flying colours. A great little hidden gem.