Originally set in Glasgow, here’s why all links to Scotland were scrapped in Poor Things

The removal of all Scottish context from the film has caused a bit of a stramash

Scooping up four Oscars, Poor Things is undoubtedly a hit. Emma Stone was awarded Best Lead Actress, the film also won awards for the best costume design, best hair and makeup, and best production design.

Based on a 1992 novel by Glaswegian artist and writer Alasdair Gray, it’s the whimsical, surrealist tale of a woman who takes her own life and is re-animated by a Victorian surgeon who replaces her brain with that of her unborn child.

The feminist Frankenstein adaptation was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and is an adaptation of the 1992 novel by Alasdair Grey, a well known Glaswegian author. The novel is set in Glasgow, with maps and illustrations providing a reference point for real life locations used in the book.

So why do we not see Glasgow shine on the silver screen? The director, Yorgos Lanthimos chose to use London as the setting for the film adaptation – the only reference to Glasgow can be found in Willem Dafoe’s Glaswegian accent when playing Godwin Baxter.

There is more than an accent in this element of the film; speaking to the BBC, Dafoe said: “I listened to tapes of Alasdair Gray… and even though I wasn’t trying to copy that accent I liked how he spoke and he had a wicked sense of humour and I think he put a lot of himself into the character of Baxter.”

Born in December 1934 in Riddrie, Alastair Grey had his roots firmly set in Glasgow. After attending secondary school in Dennistoun and studying at the Glasgow School of Art, Alastair  has written nine novels.

Which locations are referenced in the book?

  • 18 Park Circus – an address overlooking Kelvingrove park, a stones throw from Glasgow University’s main campus. This is where the protagonist, Bella Baxter, called home in the novel.
  • Landsdowne Church – on Great Western Road, is where we see her get married.
  • The River Clyde – rather than a nameless river, Bella falls into and drowns in the Clyde, not far from St Andrews Suspension Bridge.
  • Pollokshields, Sauchiehall Street, The Stewart Memorial Fountain and the University of Glasgow are all also mentioned in the novel.

Why was Glasgow not referenced in the film?

The Poor Things movie was filmed on set in Hungary, rather than Glasgow. The locations in Glasgow were replaced with surreal versions of Paris, London and Lisbon.

Speaking to Little White Lies, Yorgos told the magazine his reasons for changing locations, how they were more related to the practical and creative processes of adapting the novel than the “snubbed” headlines would suggest.

He also explained that the “Scottish issue” felt disjointed in the context of the film, saying: “In the novel, the Scottish issue feels like a different part of the book, and I felt it would just be like trying to make two different films if I tried to put it into this version of the story”.

Being Greek, Yorgos Lanthimos also said that to produce a film about Scotland would be “totally disingenuous” of him.

Some are indignantly asking why there hadn’t been an earlier, Scottish adaptation made. Well there was… written by Alasdair Gray and Sandy Johnson. Just two years after the book was published, the pair envisaged a star studded cast which included Robert Carlisle and Helena Bonham Carter. The project simply never made it to Hollywood. Yorgos, having read Poor Things in 2009, reached out to Gray in 2011, for a tour of the city.

Alasdair Gray’s son, Andrew, who looks after his father’s estate, disagrees with those who see the adaptation as a snub to the city. He believed that the production and its entire cast and crew treated the book with respect, saying that when he had met the cast, a lot of them had read the book so he “was very impressed with that”.

Regardless of where you stand in this debate, the film is certainly worth watching.

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• Glasgow University ‘last minute’ makes online final exams in person over AI concerns

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