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Mackenzie, David (1966-)

Director, Writer

Main image of Mackenzie, David (1966-)

As a film director, David Mackenzie resists genre and typecasting, and so can't be neatly pigeonholed. Which may be why he remains, as yet, relatively unknown and undervalued, despite making some of the most individual and offbeat British films of recent years.

He was born into a Scots family in Corbridge, Northumberland. His younger brother is the actor Alastair Mackenzie, best known for playing the young laird Archie Macdonald in the BBC series Monarch of the Glen (2000-05); together they founded the production company Sigma Films in 1995. After studying at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, David Mackenzie began his directorial career with a series of well-regarded shorts, the first being Dirty Diamonds (1994). California Sunshine (1997), which starred his brother Alastair as a drug dealer, won a number of awards including a BAFTA for Best Short Film. Somersault and Marcie's Dowry (both 2000) also won international awards.

His feature debut, The Last Great Wilderness (2002), set in the Highlands and again starring brother Alastair, offered a disconcerting blend of comedy, horror and road movie with more than a hint of The Wicker Man (d. Robin Hardy, 1973). He followed it up with an adaptation of Scots beat writer Alexander Trocchi's cult novel Young Adam (2003), about a drifter (Ewan McGregor) working on a canal barge between Glasgow and Edinburgh who falls into a lacklustre affair with the wife (Tilda Swinton) of the barge-owner. Grimly atmospheric, the film won numerous awards, including Best British Feature at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Asylum (2005) was adapted from a novel by Patrick McGrath, starred Natasha Richardson as the wife of a psychiatric doctor who becomes dangerously involved with one of his patients, a wife-murderer. Mackenzie skilfully conveyed the claustrophobic build-up of the original. His interest in deviant psychology continued with Hallam Foe (2007), another adaptation (from the novel by Peter Jinks), which starred Jamie Bell as a young man unhinged by the death of his mother who runs away to Edinburgh and takes up roof-crawling and voyeurism. In Mackenzie's hands, a potentially creepy set-up becomes unexpectedly light, and even romantic.

Lured to Hollywood, Mackenzie directed Spread (2009), a would-be social satire with Aston Kutcher as a serial womaniser. The film was let down by a weak script and flopped. Mackenzie returned home with some relief: "The big bubble of the illusion of Hollywood just popped," he observed. Back in Glasgow - where Sigma Films are based - he used the city as location for Perfect Sense (2011), a dystopian sci-fi film in which a mysterious epidemic is robbing people of their senses, one by one. Against this desolate backdrop a chef (Ewan McGregor) and a scientist (Eva Green) fall in love.

The same year Mackenzie directed a film-on-the-run, You Instead. Shot over four days with hand-held camera at Scotland's T in the Park Festival, it has two rock singers, bitter rivals, get inextricably handcuffed together. Since one is male, the other female, the outcome's not hard to guess. But, contrived and predictable though it is, the film's sheer manic energy carries it.

Philip Kemp

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