It was with infinite sadness that the film world learned this week of the death of legendary director John Mackenzie.
Edinburgh born Mackenzie began his career at the BBC, moving to London in the early 60s to assist Ken Loach on Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home before making his directorial debut in 1967. Between 1969 and 1972, Mackenzie would direct three feature films, (One Brief Summer; the brilliant Unman, Wittering and Zigo; and the fascinating Made), before returning to the BBC to work on their groundbreaking Play for Today strand, for which he would be paired with new Scottish writer Peter McDougall.
Disillusioned with the bleak life cycle of working in the shipyards of Glasgow, McDougall too had left for London, where he worked as a painter and decorator. Whilst painting for acclaimed actor/screenwriter Colin Welland, McDougall recounted tales of his life in Scotland, and Welland suggested that he write a script based on them. The script would be the controversial Just Another Saturday, the first of his magnificent collaborations with Mackenzie.
Mackenzie’s assured cinematic direction, coupled with McDougall’s powerhouse writing, resulted in four memorable dramas, (Just Another Saturday, The Elephant’s Graveyard, Just a Boys Game and A Sense of Freedom), every single one of which reflected the inner soul of the real Scotland. These atmospheric productions vividly evoke the place and time, and address the taboo subjects involved fearlessly.
Following A Sense of Freedom, Mackenzie went on to make many more feature films, (including the classic The Long Good Friday with Bob Hoskins). He also returned to Scotland in 1998 to helm the memorable BBC drama Looking After Jojo, starring EIFF patron Robert Carlyle.
In 2009, EIFF staged a retrospective of Mackenzie’s collaborations with McDougall, which played to, and was much enjoyed and appreciated by sell-out audiences. Despite being in indifferent health, Mackenzie made the considerable effort to attend the event in person, together with many of his family, some of whom were seeing his work for the first time; and it was clearly a source of great pleasure to him, to be reunited with colleagues such as Peter McDougall, David Hayman, and John Morrison, three decades on.
John Mackenzie was an iconic British film director, and a true gentleman. We are all the poorer for his passing.