Scottish painter James Morrison died shortly before the completion of this affectionate documentary about his life and work which premiered at the Glasgow film festival, and it’s a fitting tribute to an articulate and self-effacing artist with an extraordinary affinity for Scotland’s everchanging land- and seascapes. It’s directed by Anthony Baxter, best known for highlighting the stubborn local resistance to Donald Trump’s golf course in Aberdeenshire with his You’ve Been Trumped films; this is something of a change of pace, while offering a not-dissimilar celebration of a very Scottish style of quiet, unfussy determination.
Morrison’s story is interesting enough – born and raised in Glasgow, the son of ship’s fitter, who settled on the east coast and made epic trips to paint abroad, most notably to the Arctic – but it’s added to here by a plangent late-life twist: he is losing his sight, to the extent he can barely see what he is painting. True to form, Morrison accepted this as uncomplainingly as anything else – “irritating” is the strongest imprecation I can recall – and there’s something inexpressibly moving about the way he strokes a blank sheet of paper taped to his easel as if he can’t wait to get started.
This is by no means an emotionless film, however: Morrison talks passionately about his wife, Dorothy, who died in 2015, and introduces us to a stormily epic landscape painting he calls “a portrait of grief”. In fact, all of Morrison’s work appears suffused with a kind of religious awe at his surroundings; Baxter artfully inserts beautiful drone shots of big skies, beetling cliffs and rolling hills as an echo of Morrison’s canvases. His Arctic sequence – huge chunks of ice, floating in intense dark blue seas – stands out in terms of spectacle, but Morrison preferred to talk in terms of his own “argument with himself”. As a painter, Morrison ought to be better known; this film should give his reputation and legacy a major uplift.
• Released on 5 March in virtual cinemas and digital platforms.