Orphans was actor Peter Mullan’s first film as a director—Mullan is best-known for his role as Swanney/Mother Superior in Trainspotting and for his title role in My Name is Joe, for which he won a Best Actor award at Cannes. It’s a very odd Scottish black comedy about three brothers and their disabled sister as they prepare for and deal with the funeral of their mother over the space of one night. There’s also a weird influence of the Scorsese film After Hours that’s kind of interesting. Basically, I think Film4 wanted a new Trainspotting, so they brought Mullan on to do one, but what they got was a mish-mash of British realist filmmaking and surrealism—two genres that rarely work together.
The film is OK—there are bunch of good Scottish actors here who you’ve seen before. But if American audiences thought Trainspotting was so incomprehensible that it needed subtitles, Orphans would be an even bigger struggle, because it’s full of thick Glaswegian accents. When funders Film4 saw the finished article, they decided they really didn’t want it. But then it started playing film festivals, winning four awards at the Venice Film Festival alone. It started getting some good word of mouth, and then Film4 was desperate to buy it back—but in the end, Mullan refused the offer. However, although the film shows promise, it’s all over the place and really doesn’t work for me.
If you’ve seen it and liked it, you’ll probably want to pick up this disc, because it’s packed with extras. If not, tread cautiously. Probably the most amusing extra is a 2000 commentary track that starts with Mullan saying “welcome to the world of DVD, you sad anorak wankers.” It also includes a bunch of Mullan’s short films (he’s made two features since this.) There is Orphans Reunited, a new, hour-long making-of featurette, and the original half-hour making-of. There’s also 11 minutes of deleted scenes (unfortunately, a half hour of extra footage was accidentally burned by Film4 due to a clerical error, perhaps including stuff that Mullan would have liked to use here—that probably didn’t help his relationship with Film4) and audition footage, both with optional commentary as well; plus the trailer, an image gallery and a booklet with a new essay by Michael Patterson, an archival piece by Mullan, his letter to Film4 and an overview of what critics thought of the film at the time. So a nice set for those who like the film.